The Unsexy Truth: Living and Traveling with Hypothyroidism

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March 1st marks the first year Blogiversary of “Globetrotting Grandpa.” To celebrate this milestone, I am rerunning some of the most popular posts of the last year based on your likes, comments, and views. I hope you enjoy them. GG.

DISCLAIMER: I am not a Doctor or medical professional. Just someone who likes to travel and has a medical condition. The following information may be helpful to you. Please consult your doctor if you have specific medically related questions.

I had Grave’s disease. That sounds too ominous, so I usually don’t say it that way. I had an overactive thyroid. It was treated with radiation which almost entirely destroyed the gland. Now for the rest of my life, I have to take a synthetic thyroid pill, While the doctors may have killed my thyroid my love of travel was very much alive. It just created more planning and advance work than before.

Look, I know traveling with a disease or condition (even if it is managed) isn’t exactly sexy. But it is real, and it is a part of my life.  Life isn’t always glamorous, often times it is messy. Travel is like that too.

I wanted to take a moment to explain hypothyroidism when I was diagnosed, the symptoms, and how I still manage to travel and keep my energy up.

This is Synthroid.  I take this every day. The dosage varies a lot as my T-levels are all over the map. But anymore these pills go wherever I go.


What is Hypothyroidism?

Hypothyroidism is a low functioning or non-functioning thyroid. The thyroid is an endocrine gland found at the base of your throat. This gland secretes hormones that regulate such things as metabolism, temperature regulation, and absorption of calcium. Many people acquire Hypothyroidism through an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s disease. Both my father and paternal grandmother have low thyroid, and both take Synthroid. I didn’t have any issues that I was aware of until my mid-thirties. In my case, I developed Grave’s disease first which caused Hyperthyroidism. I had too many hormones instead of too few. I had the shakes, nervousness, and rapid and excessive weight loss. The doctors gave me a radioactive iodine pill which put me into immediate Hypothyroidism.

What are the symptoms of Hypothyroidism?

Oh, they’re entertaining.  First I’ll tell you the most common, then I’ll mention the ones I mostly experience. The most common symptoms include the following: fatigue, weight gain, pale or puffy face, feeling cold, joint and muscle pain, constipation, dry and thinning hair, depression, and a slowed heart rate.

The most common for me is weight gain and a tough time losing. Slowed metabolism, feeling cold ALL the time, slowed heart rate and occasional BM issues. As far as fatigue and depression, yes I have that occasionally, but it may have become the “new normal” so much that I don’t notice it too often. But I do know my friends and family say “I am a lot of fun” if I forget to take my Synthroid. (as in I get morose). The upside is it has never dulled the absolute passion I feel for traveling.

So how do you (or someone you travel with handle traveling with hypothyroidism? Well here are some ways I cope with it that may be helpful for you.

1) Do your advance work

A few weeks before a planned trip I have a full blood-work done to check to see if my level is in sync. This way we have time to change the medication dosage and allow time for it to ‘kick in.’ For me at least it takes a few weeks for my numbers to adjust to a new dosage.

I try to get regular exercise, but sometimes I tend to get so busy it seems to fall off my plate. If I am preparing for a trip a few weeks of consistent exercise is a must for me. Especially given the fact that a lot of places outside of the US are more walking oriented. But it isn’t just abroad when I went to visit a friend in NYC, I ended up walking more in a day than I probably did the entire month prior.  From that day forward I always up my exercise level before a trip.

I always make sure I have my pills on my carry on luggage in case the other bags get lost. I also synchronize my phone if I am changing time zones to make sure I take my pills at the same time each day. (this is a big one for me as I indeed tend to be out of sorts if I don’t keep my dosage times consistent.) I also take more pills than I plan to be gone just in case something happens like a missed or canceled flight. Which tends to happen a lot for me.

I always include my doctor’s number, email and a copy of my prescription in case an overseas pharmacy needs verification.  I also check with my insurance company to see what is covered. If my insurance company doesn’t cover much (which is almost always the case), I look into traveler’s insurance. Although honestly, I haven’t always been consistent with carrying it every time I travel.

2) Things I do while I travel

My two biggest ones stay hydrated and get an afternoon nap if possible.  I usually drink more water traveling than I do stationary. Water helps with BM issues, and if I am moving a lot, I tend to dehydrate quickly. I avoid alcohol and usually have tea instead of coffee. If I can manage an afternoon or early evening nap, it helps me keep my energy level consistent. I find that the thrill of being someplace new means if I am having any issues with fatigue, I am probably going to be oblivious to them. It is important though to be mindful of this, so you don’t run your body too hard. The nap whether I feel I need it or not helps my body to recharge.

So do you have any condition you or your travel partner(s) travel with? What precautions do you take? As always, your feedback is gratefully welcomed.

4 Replies to “The Unsexy Truth: Living and Traveling with Hypothyroidism”

  1. I have Grave’s that has been in remission for 15 years and has just decided to make a comeback. I was able to use PTU 15 years ago to bring about my remission. This time I was thinking about RAI but think I am going to make one try with Tapazole and a radical immune supportive diet. I am worried about RAI and your comments make it apparent that it is not as easy of a solution as the docs serve up. Thanks for your candor. I am an advid travel as well. My most recent adventure was in Nepal.

    1. I am thrilled to read you had it go into remission. What a blessing! I didn’t have a good experience with radiation. Alas, it was pre-internet, so I was bereft of any real information or community. I hope the diet works out for you. I always feel like meds are often a last resort. ( I mean I’m not denting their importance) but anything you can do to avoid RAI is a good thing based on what I’ve gone through. Nepal is a major dream trip on my bucket list. Thank you for commenting GG

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