Thyroid Disease & Your Hair

During my apprenticeship years ago, I was in a really weird place. I was working 10-12 hour days from Tuesday through Saturday and taking additional classes every week on Sundays, Mondays or sometimes both. And then I was bringing in my own models on Monday evenings to test out with my educators on the advanced classes I was taking. Basically, the salon was my home in every sense of the word. I was coming home around 9 or 10 at night and passing out on the couch. My husband at the time was so annoyed with me. He felt that I was giving everything I had to my job and working myself to the bone. We would put on a movie when I got home from work or even just try to have a conversation and I would be snoring within minutes. It was really affecting my personal life, but I was at a loss as to what exactly was happening. I’d worked hard my whole life and before my apprenticeship, I was in school forty hours a week and working about 25 hours on the side as well. I was no stranger to long hours and hard work, but suddenly, it was kind of taking me over. I had no control over my fatigue. I could down two cups of coffee and still pass out minutes later.

I mentioned to my gynecologist during my yearly visit that I was finding myself to be incredibly fatigued all the time. I also told her that I’d noticed my hair was beginning to fall out at an alarming rate. A couple weeks prior, I began pulling out what seemed like handfuls from my scalp in the shower and I was really freaked out. Being tired I could deal with, but being a hairdresser without hair? No way! Without running any tests or really looking into it further, she chalked it all up to my birth control. I’d been on it for two years and she claimed that it was probably just my hormones adjusting. My gut told me there was something more there, but I trusted my doctor.

Four months later, I switched insurance plans and visited my new doctor. I had a slew of problems and was hoping someone would check into them. I was still losing hair, falling asleep constantly, and now I was becoming more alarmed as my periods had completely stopped and I now had dealt with a sore throat for a month straight. What the heck was going on with me? I mentioned all of these things to my new doctor and her eyes grew wide with worry. She asked if she could put her hands around my throat and feel around. I told her yes and she immediately noticed what she called a “goiter”, which is a large growth that often signifies problems with the thyroid. She was incredibly alarmed at my symptoms and the size of my goiter, so she took my blood and said she would expedite it to be done by the next morning.

The next day, I got a frantic call at work. It was my doctor saying that my thyroid was non-functioning and it was so bad that she was shocked I’d been able to even walk into her office the previous day without losing all of my energy. She needed me to leave work immediately and go pick up a prescription that would begin giving me the normal dosage of hormone that my thyroid should have been producing and she put me in touch with a thyroid specialist who could see me the following week and begin treating me properly. She made it clear how lucky I was to get in when I did before this disease started to affect my blood pressure level and other things that are difficult to bounce back from. I was shocked at how serious everything had become.

The next week, sitting in the specialist’s office, I asked every question I had and was hit with some really serious answers that I wasn’t ready to hear. The first thing she told me was that I had the worst blood test she’d ever seen… Oh, wonderful! She then told me how this disease would now be a part of me for the rest of my life and I’d be taking a pill every day, doing blood work every 3 months to monitor my levels and visiting with her to followup at least every six months or as needed based on my blood tests. She told me that my symptoms would be ongoing, popping up at random and that I’d need to pay attention to them and really learn to listen to my body. She also told me the worst of the symptoms being that my case was the worst she’d seen… I shuttered when she explained that this could greatly impact my ability to ever get pregnant. And that even if I did, carrying a baby to term with both of us healthy would be my biggest challenge. And then there’s the added factors of possibly passing this to my children and dealing with other serious effects such as spiked blood pressure and heart problems. She was optimistic because I was young and healthy and soon we were on track to handling this disease.

Over the years since my diagnosis, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned that I actually have a separate form of thyroid disease than was first realized called Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. It basically means that my autoimmune system has attacked my thyroid, causing it to lose almost all function. I’ve also learned that symptoms never end… ugh! I spent one year gaining about 20 pounds, I go through bouts of losing my hair when my dosage needs to be upped, I’ve recently began experiencing periods of extreme dizziness where I feel like I might pass out and need to sit down and also in the past year, I’ve begun getting migraines about once a month. And though I am young and relatively healthy, I also deal occasionally with a symptom of memory loss, which is perhaps the most frustrating. At the age of 25, I worry about how much worse it truly could get in the years ahead of me with the worst symptom being heart failure. But my specialist is incredibly talented and on her game when it comes to being open, honest and treating everything that comes up.

From my job behind the chair, I’ve met women who I could just tell had an untreated thyroid disease. And they come to me, their hairdresser, because they assume that hair loss and severe dry scalp and skin must be something I can treat. Though I am certainly not a doctor and obviously don’t claim to be one, I always ask clients who seem to have the same symptoms I do about other things going on in their life… their fatigue level, weight gain, etc. And in every case, whether they have one symptom of hair loss or five of the same symptoms I have, I always recommend them to get tested and visit their doctor. I explain to them that their thyroid hormone effects their skin, nails and hair and that even if the symptoms they are experiencing are not from an improperly functioning thyroid, it could show a hormone imbalance that’s not related. Or it could give them the peace of mind in knowing that they are completely clear and free of a thyroid disease and now, her and I can begin treating her hair loss topically.

I tell you this story for a few reasons. One, because during the time when I was undiagnosed (and let’s face it, still in the everyday dealing with ongoing symptoms), I felt completely lost. I had no idea what was going on with my body and no idea where to turn. I also kind of thought it might all be in my head. But I’m glad I kept looking for an answer because that might have saved my life. And secondly, because our hormones affect everything and sometimes we don’t realize that. Because I meet women on a monthly basis who have problems with their hair, skin or nails that can only be coming from a hormone imbalance or something internal. And because I get asked about this problem constantly from women in my chair, I wanted to make a statement publicly as well for all of you who read this blog.

As your hairdresser, I encourage you to pay attention to dry skin, weak nails, or a flaky scalp and recognize that any of these can be a first symptom of a thyroid disease. And just like I would tell you if you were in my chair, tell your doctor about it just to be sure. When I began talking to my doctor about the process of having children, she informed me that a lot of women begin testing and treatment after having miscarried once or a few times because of their undiagnosed thyroid disease. I’m thankful that I found out the truth about my autoimmune system before beginning that part of my life journey, but my heart hurts thinking of the women who have suffered through such pain when they could have been tested and treated first.

Listen to your body and get the proper testing and information. Keep yourself informed and don’t let any doubt on your part be the reason why you haven’t been diagnosed, treated, or given a clean bill of health.