Larry Page's 'Common' Thyroid Disease Isn't As Harmless As He Made It Sound

LinkedInOn Tuesday, Google CEO Larry Page broke the silence that his voice has nearly dwindled to.

He told the world that he has paralysed vocal cord nerves which have made his voice grow soft and hoarse. The paralysed nerves may be related to Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, an auto-immune disease he was diagnosed with in 2003.

Although he says it’s “common” and “causes [him] no problems,” for many sufferers, the problems are myriad, often debilitating, and sometimes downright frightening.

I know, because I have Hashimoto’s too.

Imagine the inability to even communicate the most basic thought, like asking for a fork, because you can’t remember the word “fork,” or that it’s kept in a kitchen — a symptom known as anomic aphasia.

Hashimoto’s disease is thought to afflict between 3 and 4% of the U.S. population, or about 10 to 11 million Americans. But it is frequently undiagnosed until its late stages, because early symptoms can mimic dozens of other possible conditions. Because of this, the numbers are likely far greater than that, with millions unknowingly living with the disease.

When my hair became so dry I couldn’t get a comb or brush through it, wet or dry, regardless of how much conditioner I slathered on, I figured I’d finally inflicted maximum damage from years of using over-the-counter hair colour and switched to ammonia-free, water-based products.

When my skin became so dry that my lips cracked and bled, I piled on the moisturizer and lip balm. And when my fingernails became so brittle they’d snap off at the slightest touch, I lumped all these symptoms together and thought I must not be hydrating myself enough and started drinking up to a gallon of water a day.

None of that helped, of course.

Next came the joint pain in my hips, elbows, and knees that was so severe that I couldn’t turn over in bed — I had to sit up, reposition myself, and lay back down. Well, I was 41 years old — getting up there! — so maybe arthritis was starting to settle in.

The chronic fatigue that led to falling asleep sitting up at my desk with my hand still on my mouse must have been due to a lack of sleep because of my insomnia. And my insomnia was surely because I was spending too much time reading the Internet before bed (something all sleep specialists warn against if you want a good night’s sleep).

The migraine headaches that sent me home from work to hide under the blankets in a darkened room were inexplicable; as were the sinus infections that surgery 10 years prior was meant to prevent. And everyone attributed the slowly-creeping weight gain to my new marriage “agreeing with me” (whatever that means). Depression, constipation, and loss of libido reared their ugly heads, as well.

There’s an old adage in the medical profession: When you hear hoof beats, think of a horse, not a zebra. And that mindset is so prevalent among doctors that it can be difficult to find one who will even ask about all these various symptoms, let alone put them all together under the umbrella of a single disease. I had to insist my doctor draw blood and test for low thyroid function after he brushed off the notion that I could possibly be suffering from it. Doctors so frequently dismiss the symptoms of Hashimoto’s Disease, that it was even showcased on The Discovery Channel’s “Mystery Diagnosis.”

The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland at the front of the throat that controls your entire metabolic system. Because Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is an auto-immune disease, with antibodies literally attacking the gland, it is a chronic condition that requires life-long treatment, usually with replacement thyroid hormone, but may also require statin drugs to combat associated high cholesterol, and vitamin therapy, particularly Vitamin D.

While not all sufferers will experience the same set of symptoms off the long list of potential ailments, in part due to the point in the illness diagnosis is made, it would be unusual for Larry Page to have gone nearly three years from his first sore throat to his diagnosis without any other symptoms at all. His first vocal cord injury was sometime around 1999. His Hashimoto’s was diagnosed in 2003. And his second vocal cord injury did not occur until last summer, only then prompting him to consider that his thyroid condition might be playing a role, as he said in his statement: “So in searching for a cause for both nerves that was an obvious place to look.”

Hashimoto’s is a progressive disease. If Page caught his earlier than I did, then his symptoms may be as non-existent as he makes them sound. In the worst cases though, when Hashimoto’s goes untreated, the disease can lead to comas and even death. 

For me, Hashimoto’s is an ongoing struggle. I get blood drawn every six months. Now that I’ve been treated, the symptoms have mostly gone away but hints of them remain. My nails are still a disaster and probably always will be, though my hair is soft and manageable again. Weight is still a struggle. Many days, my joints are in some degree of pain.

With so many suffering undiagnosed because they are shooed away by disbelieving doctors, and with testing not being routine, it would be great if Mr. Page would break his silence a little bit more and share his full experience.

It might help more doctors think to diagnose more zebras. 

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.