Testing for a thyroid disorder is commonly believed to be as simple as giving a blood sample, making a diagnosis and prescribing a medication. For some patients, however, the thyroid disorder requires much more extensive diagnostic tools. From a personal account, I can attest to the pain and complications that are associated with the thyroid disorder diagnostic tools as I witnessed these in my sister’s fight to obtain the right thyroid diagnosis for her.
Several years ago, my sister experienced an event known as a “thyroid storm”. This event was episodic, involved a sudden increase in her heart rate, increase in respiration, sudden vertigo and then, without warning, a sudden ringing and popping in her ears and a total loss of hearing on one side. In fear, she sought out medical attention, immediately, from her family physician.
Without realizing this event was a “thyroid storm”, my sister’s healthcare professional began running a series of tests, misdiagnosing her complications as that of a neurological or cardiovascular event. It wasn’t until she was examined by her gynecologist, for an annual well-woman exam, that her thyroid was determined to be abnormally enlarged and, as a result, she was referred to an endocrinologist for further testing. This is when the plethora of complications began.
Upon accompanying my sister to a doctor’s appointment, where she was scheduled to undergo a fine needle aspiration, I was astonished at the sheer pain associated with this procedure. Described to my sister as a minor procedure in which a needle is inserted into the neck and through the thyroid gland, my sister was assured that an anesthetic would be applied and the procedure would take a few seconds and would be relatively painless. This was absolutely not the case!
As the technician arrived in the office, my sister was leaned back in the chair. Inserting a small anesthetic needle into her neck, I could see the pain signals evident in my sisters eyes as the tiny stream of tears flowed down the side of her face. I held her hand and assured her that the anesthesia would kick in and should would feel nothing in a few minutes. Boy, was I wrong!
In the next step, the technician exposed my sister to what, in my opinion, appeared to be a 24 gauge needle, measuring over six inches long. What was described as a simple, “in and out” needle aspiration, turning into a slow and meticulous insertion of a large gauge needle, into her neck and through her thyroid gland. My sister screamed in horror! The technician then proceeded to jostle the needle back and forth as her aspirated the tissue from her gland and then, without warning, he pulled the needle out quickly. My sister was in tears, screaming in pain, and hyperventilated to a point where she passed out in the chair. The technician, to my astonishment, then advised he would need to obtain a second pass at her neck. I absolutely rejected this notion and advised him that no one would touch her neck until she was revived and could make that decision for herself. Needless to say, my sister declined.
After obtaining the results from the needle aspiration, the doctor’s verified her condition was not related to that of a cancer or malignancy. Next, the doctor suggested an imaging study, using iodine, to test the function of the thyroid. While my sister was hesitant, she knew this was necessary to determine what the complications were that may be attributing her abnormal thyroid disorder and, associated, hearing loss.
Ingesting iodine, my sister was sent home for an 18 hour period, unable to come in contact with anyone due to her “radioactive” status. After the 18 hours, she presented herself to the hospital where she was admitted for her thyroid imaging study. The study was non-invasive and checked the flow of iodine through her system to determine if any other complications could be seen. Since iodine was used, following her procedure, she was placed in a post-operative wing of the hospital until she could be released. During her stay in the post-operative wing, as I reached the hospital to check her out and take her home, I noticed a sudden change in her personality. In fact, this change became quite evident when she looked, blankly, at me and asked where she was. At first I thought she was kidding and then I realized she was confused.
After further conversation with her, it appeared my sister had experienced a short term memory loss, not remembering why she was there, not remembering she had a hearing loss, forgetting she had a daughter and didn’t even recall what day it was or where she worked. Upon notifying the nurse, my sister was transported to the ICU where she was admitted for complications associated with iodine. This, needless to say, was a frightening time for our entire family.
After 24 hours, my sister recovered from this short term memory loss to such an extent that she was permitted to return home. In the weeks and months that followed she regained much of her memory but, to this day, she continues to forget appointments and dates and, still, has not regained her hearing on one side. She also continues to suffer from a thyroid disorder, requiring medication, and continues to experience a “thyroid storm” periodically.
While the testing experienced by my sister may have been necessary to rule out arterial and neurological complications, and even cancer, they were ultimately tests that I would never recommend that she repeat. If you are a patient who suffers from complications associated with a thyroid storm, or simple thyroid disorders, consider, carefully, the risks and complications associated with testing for a thyroid disorder.