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Q1

Do you have trouble sleeping, or do you feel fatigue during the day?

Q2

Do you have trouble maintaining your weight?

Q3

Do you frequently feel depressed, anxious or irritable?

Q4

Do you experience pain or weakness in your joints or muscles?

Q5

Have you ever been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes or an autoimmune disease?

Q6

Is there a history of thyroid disorders in your family?

Q7

Have you experienced any of these symptoms for an extended period?

Q8

Have you been experiencing unusual constipation or loose stools?

Q9

Are you troubled by excessive sweating, dry skin or hair loss?

If you answered yes to one or more of these questions or if you suspect you may have thyroid disease, talk with a doctor. It’s time to take control of these symptoms!

An endocrinologist is a specially trained doctor that is qualified to diagnose and treat hormone-related diseases and conditions, including all those related to the thyroid gland.

NASCAR Driver Austin Theriault: My Thyroid Disease Journey

NASCAR Driver Austin Theriault: My Thyroid Disease Journey

The following article originally appeared in Empower Magazine, a quarterly publication by the American College of Endocrinology that is designed to help patients educate themselves about endocrine health. In this interview, NASCAR driver Austin Theriault speaks about his struggle with thyroid disease.

EmPower: Tell us a bit about yourself.

AT: My name is Austin Theriault, and I turned 26 in January 2020. I’ve been a racecar driver since I was 13 years old. When people ask me what I do, and I tell them I am a professional racecar driver, they don’t always understand. I explain that there are 40 top-level drivers in NASCAR any given week, and from time to time, I can call myself one of them.

EmPower: How did it all start? Did you race go-carts at first?

AT: Every person’s journey is different. Some drivers start when they’re younger. I was practically middle-aged compared to some other drivers – I was 13, while some start racing go-carts at eight or nine. Coming from a rural part of Maine, we didn’t have those types of local opportunities. I had to wait until I was old enough to race at the local short tracks. Both my father and grandfather were involved in different types of motor sports, which caused me to develop a passion for motor sports as a kid. My grandfather took me to my first NASCAR race in Lowden, New Hampshire, when I was about 8 years old. So, at least for me, getting into the profession often starts as a hobby and time spent with family, then cascades from there.

EmPower: Were you driving full size cars at 13?

AT: I was driving older production cars like Dodge Neon and Pontiac GrandAm, older model Ford Mustangs. That was during the early days.

EmPower: So, you were an up-and-coming racecar driver, then life brought out the caution flag when you were diagnosed with a thyroid condition. How old were you?

AT: I was diagnosed in 2016. After the diagnosis I asked, “Are there other people in my family that might be suffering from this?” I found out that my grandmother and some other people on her side of the family are also battling thyroid issues. My great grandmother, to whom I was very close as a kid, may have even had her thyroid removed. So, there were a lot of struggles in the family when it comes to thyroid and autoimmune issues.

EmPower: Even as your symptoms started to emerge, it wasn’t noticed as a family trait?

AT: No. I always pride myself on doing research, myself, and the diagnosis came a fair amount of time after my symptoms had started. Looking back, I think I had suffered symptoms for about a year or two before diagnosis. It’s a journey of discovery, and a lot of people are suffering without knowing what’s going on.

EmPower: What were those symptoms you mentioned that made you realize there was something wrong?

AT: For a lot of people with thyroid conditions, it is kind of a never-ending fatigue where you may feel good then all of a sudden you have a 100-pound weight that you’re dragging behind you. Keep in mind I am also racing when all of this is happening. Part of me was like, “Maybe this is just coming with the territory.” I was moving up through NASCAR and getting major opportunities with a lot of expectations and pressure.

Other symptoms that people experience are anxiety, depression and brain fog. Some of those have come up from time to time for me. Luckily, in the grand scheme of things, I caught it pretty early.

EmPower: How frustrating was it? You’re an athlete in a very physically demanding role and position, probably eating right and exercising, so you think, what is up?

AT: The thing I experienced was being right on the edge of the diagnosis. It makes me wonder if there are other people on that sort of borderline where they are symptomatic, but it’s not enough for a diagnosis. Over time, as the body starts to react and maybe you go through a stressor, it puts you over the edge.

If I look back at other yearly physicals where they did happen to take TSH, which is an indicator of your thyroid status, I was right below the threshold of being diagnosed for that span of 3-4 years. It started to get bad in 2015, and when I finally went to the doctor, my results were substantially higher than that threshold.

EmPower: At some point in your journey you were seeing one or two doctors. Were you referred to an endocrinologist?

AT: I was diagnosed initially by my family physician who I would see for yearly physicals, including the mandatory NASCAR physical. After I asked for a recommendation, he referred me to an endocrinologist who switched some medication around and had a more detailed conversation around how the whole thyroid system works – TSH, T3, T4, all that. It’s important for people to at least consider these steps.

If you feel like you were diagnosed and still have questions about what the future may look like or you are not quite feeling like you should, then never be afraid to ask more questions or see someone else who has more training in that particular area.

EmPower: It sounds like getting that information and sitting down to talk with somebody to learn the basics is pretty important?

AT Absolutely. I think it’s important to understand what’s at stake and how your body works. Whether it’s a change in medication, lifestyle, diet or exercise, realizing how these adjustments affect you comes from speaking with other people that are experts in those subjects. This drive to understand is why, I believe, I have been successful in racing.

EmPower: How do you plan to manage your thyroid disease going forward?

AT: I try to eat as healthy as possible and to follow my diet consistently, which can be hard on the road. Exercise is important for me as well – a little bit of cardio to make sure that I feel good. I think that takes care of some of the fatigue.

One of the things that I spoke to the endocrinologist about is that I was having issues handling the temperatures inside the car when I raced. We know that the thyroid does influence your body temperature. In having that conversation with my doctor, we were able to switch around the timing of when I would take the hormone and that really did help. I wasn’t having as many issues in hot weather afterward. So, keeping track of symptoms and then having a conversation with the doctor is key to managing my disease.

It’s a lifelong struggle. There are millions of Americans living with some sort of chronic condition. I don’t like the label of saying I have a chronic disease but, at the end of the day, feeling like I’m not alone in this is valuable. There are millions of Americans who have a thyroid condition and millions more with some other chronic condition. And those numbers, I think, are lower than the actual reality, because it’s not always possible to tell who’s really struggling with these conditions.

EmPower: For others who may be thinking, “Those symptoms sound like mine – fatigue, brain fog, weight fluctuations,” what advice would you give?

AT: The biggest thing for people to understand is that they are not alone and it’s okay. The doctor is going to be your best resource, the first resource you should turn to.

The second important thing is being your own advocate. It’s okay to educate yourself a little, ask questions and be willing to do whatever it takes to get an accurate diagnosis. Patients that are their own advocate seem to have better outcomes in my opinion because they are asking questions, making sure they are being listened to, and they are communicating their wishes.

That’s really what allowed me to get diagnosed in 2016, after suffering symptoms for 2-3 years. I said, “Look, it would make me feel a lot better if we could maybe go the extra mile here and run some more tests.” The next day, after getting the diagnosis, I felt like there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

This is the first time I told the story, and hopefully I will be able to speak out more on this issue. My hope is that a few people will see it and take some sort of action to help improve their lives.

Austin Theriault is a professional race car driver on the NASCAR circuit. Follow Austin at www.austintheriault.com, as well as on his Facebook, YouTube and Twitter pages.