The Complete Thyroid Book

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The Complete Thyroid Book By Kenneth Ain, By M.Sara Rosenthal, book reviewSeldom can something so small and hidden have caused so much trouble. The thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped organ at the base of your neck, just below the Adam’s apple. Most people don’t know they’ve got one, have never given it any thought and most likely don’t have the slightest idea what it does. But for those people who are aware about their thyroid, it’s very likely that this little gland is causing them trouble – and in some cases, such as mine, it looked for a while like big scary trouble.

I was one of the many who didn’t know my thyroid from my thigh bone nine months ago and now, thanks to two operations, numerous blood tests, a dose of radioactive iodine and daily medication, my thyroid is a constant preoccupation even though I haven’t actually got one. Sounds weird? Try a diagnosis of follicular thyroid cancer – it’s a great way to turn you overnight from thyroid ignorant to thyroid expert.

I’m getting good care, had an outstanding surgeon and a super-approachable oncologist but there are times when you can’t get hold of these people to ask them all the questions that need answers in order for you to sleep at night. Sometimes you don’t even know what you don’t know or where to start asking about it.

I’m a firm believer that in the case of any disease the two greatest weapons in your armoury are optimism and information. The former is something that’s intrinsically tied up in the sort of person you are (luckily I’m blessed with a super-abundance of ‘glass-half-full-ness’) and the latter is something you’re just going to go out and hunt down. There’s an awful lot of crap (or if you want to be polite, let’s call it mumbo jumbo and misinformation) on the internet about thyroids so whatever your problem, if you think it could be thyroid related, I recommend getting a really good reference book and so far The Complete Thyroid Book by Kenneth Ain and Sara Rosenthal is the best that I’ve found.

Ain is Director of the University of Kentucky Thyroid Clinic and is a leading expert in thyroid conditions. Sara Rosenthal has a PhD in medical ethics and wrote a bestseller called ‘The Thyroid Sourcebook‘. Rather romantically their shared obsession with the thyroid – Ain’s due to his work and Rosenthal’s due to being a thyroid cancer survivor – brought them together after each had been through a divorce. It’s rather a cute story and they’re very open about how the thyroid has changed their lives but at no time are they ever less than 100% professional in the delivery of this book.

Thyroid cancer is very rare in the UK with only 3 people per 100,000 of the population being diagnosed each year. That represents less than 1% of all cancers and if you factor up to a population of about 60 million it’s around 2000 people per year who’ll be diagnosed. As a writer you’d struggle to make a living writing books for such a rare disease and it’s not surprising therefore that this isn’t a book about thyroid cancer; it’s a book about all the different weird and unusual things that can happen to a thyroid. These include under-activity, over-activity, various auto-immune diseases such as Hashimotos and Graves diseases and tucked in amongst all those nasties are a few chapters on cancer.

Nobody who buys this book will need all the information that’s to be found inside its covers. You’d need a very complex medical history for all of it to be relevant. However whatever your problem, the book offers good, pragmatic and down to earth advice and information. It doesn’t patronise you by dumbing down the thyroid but it does assume you’re intelligent enough to know a little bit about your problems and interested enough to want to know more.

“I would suggest to ask yourself what type of person you are before you read the bits on cancer if you don’t have reason to think you’ve got it.”

The style is easy to read and not sensationalised. The authors kick off by telling readers why they are so passionate about the thyroid and its diseases. Then in Part One they introduce the basics of thyroid problems over the first 12 chapters. They introduce the thyroid and explain what it does. They tell us how different types of diseases can be diagnosed – or not diagnosed in some cases. They work through the different diseases including hypothyroidism, thyrotoxicosis, auto-immune disorders, goiters, nodules, and different types of cancer. Then they describe the drugs used in the treatment and maintenance of the thyroid and introduce the magical radioactive iodine, the wonder element that makes thyroid cancer one of the most treatable of modern day cancers. I scanned the bits I didn’t need and wasn’t interested in and zoomed in on the bits most relevant to my condition.

In Part Two they look at ‘People in Special Circumstances’ and feature chapters on different patient groups – for example pregnant or menopausal women, infants and children, older people and the obese. Regardless of your condition, it’s likely there will be useful information scattered amongst these chapters.

In Part Three they cover how to live well after you’ve received treatment, kicking off with a fantastically useful chapter on the misconceptions and misinformation that surrounds thyroid problems. I found this particularly useful as I’d been exposed to a lot of the mumbo jumbo and mysticism of the thyroid through the internet and it was great to see the authors debunking some of the more common fairy tales about the condition. They introduce information on special types of diet required to manage different conditions and I was very happy to learn that other than when I prepare for radiation treatment, cancer sufferers get off pretty lightly.

Thyroid problems are notoriously tricky and Part Four addresses various medical complications in a clear and honest way without introducing fear. Some of these problems will be common to many conditions such as fatigue whilst others are very specific such as thyroid eye disease and heart complications linked to the thyroid. A useful set of appendices complete the book with links to thyroid sites on the internet, a comprehensive glossary of terms and a good index.

The Complete Thyroid Book has some drawbacks, the most significant of which is that it’s American and much of the information on treatment doesn’t cross the Atlantic without problems. Treatment regimes differ but the authors try to address differences that they are aware of where possible. By being so broad in it’s coverage it inevitably contains a lot of info and not all of it will be relevant to any reader, regardless of their condition but I think that’s entirely forgiveable and understandable. I believe that the benefits of the book outweigh any geographic limitations many times over. It’s clear, non-patronising, informative and the authors are not afraid to stand up for what they believe and to knock down what they consider to be dangerous falsehoods. After a couple of evenings reading this I didn’t come across a lot that I didn’t already know about but I did have many things straightened out for me and I was happy to see medical professionals confirming what I’d read elsewhere and debunking some of the loony-tunes ideas I’d seen online.

I would suggest to ask yourself what type of person you are before you read the bits on cancer if you don’t have reason to think you’ve got it. If you’re a bit of a hypochondriac, please stick to the sections directly related to your condition or within a few hours you’ll probably convince yourself that you’re suffering from all sorts of nastier stuff. From what I’ve seen with diseases, there’s a lot of auto-suggestion involved that soon convinces the healthiest person that their cough is cancer spreading to their lungs or their elevated temperature is an early onset menopause. Unless you’re a toughie who can deal with too much information, don’t wade into the nasty bits or you’ll soon convince yourself you’ve got all sorts of extra problems.

I plan to lend the book to several friends who I think will benefit from it. I have a friend who’s hypothyroidal and can’t get her problems taken seriously by her GP – an uncharming and unsympathetic fellow who described hypothyroidism as “women of a certain age going a bit funny”. Two other friends in their 30s have auto-immune thyroid problems which seem rather more scary than getting cancer to me. If you’re looking for the medical truth behind the half-truths and rumours about the thyroid and it’s many little foibles, this book is well worth the investment and you’ll be doing your friends and family a favour if you share it around.

I bought my copy online at Amazon for just over £10 but it’s also available in Kindle format for about a pound less and I’m almost tempted to buy the Kindle version as well. I’ve never bought a medical book before but I’m so impressed by this one that I recommend it to all who have thyroid problems, think they might have, or live with people who are sufferers.


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Complete Thyroid Book, The
by Kenneth Ain and M.Sara Rosenthal

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Written by koshkha