ATLANTA - More than 27 million Americans have some sort of thyroid disease. Half have no idea they suffer from an imbalance. Nik Nelson didn't realize he was at-risk, but now that he knows, the hair stylist is trying spread the word.
"All the time, all the time," says Nelson.
Inside Atlanta's Pressed Natural Hair Salon, Nick Nelson and his clients are tight.
"He's been doing my hair for about 11 years now," says Tawanda Thompson.
As they got to know each other, Tawanda Thompson shared her story of being a two-time thyroid cancer survivor.
"I always kind of joke with him that I was 'patient zero.' So, when he and I started talking about it, he then noticed stuff with himself," says Thompson.
Because, about 5 years ago, in his early 30's, Nick started feeling horrible.
"It was really, really, rough. It was rough, rough," says Nelson.
His hair was thinning, his heart was racing, and he felt exhausted.
"Like, I would sleep for an entire night and wake up and still be tired. I would be worried, and anxiety, and losing weight and gaining weight and losing weight," he says.
Thinking he might have a heart problem, he went to a cardiologist.
"When I walked in, one of the technicians looked at me and she said, 'I can tell you what's wrong with you, and it's not your heart.' And I was, like, 'Okay." And she was, like, 'Have you seen your neck?"
Because Nik had a goiter. So, he came to see endocrinologist Dr. Darwin Brown who is affiliated with DeKalb Medical Center.
"And Dr. Brown was, like, 'That is a big goiter! How did you miss that?" I don't know how I missed it, you know," says Nelson.
A blood test showed Nik had a severely overactive thyroid gland, or hyperthyroidism. According to the Cleveland Clinic, women are five to eight times more likely to have thyroid problems than men
"It is something that can make you quite ill. It is something that can make you critically ill," says Dr. Darwin Brown.
Because Dr. Brown says the butterfly-shaped gland in our neck produces a thyroid hormone that regulates -- and can throw off -- so many things in the human body.
"From hair growth to brain activity, heart rate, heart rhythm, bowel function, ad woman's menstrual periods aver very highly-dependent on thyroid hormone," says Dr. Brown.
Nick's hyperthyroidism so severe, his goiter so large, he had to have his thyroid surgically removed.
And about that time, another client, Monica Madden, started struggling with many of the same symptoms.
"He was like, Monica, go get checked, go get checked," says Madden
One day, after a workout,
"I felt like I was having a heart attack. I had palpitations, I had chest pains. My heart was racing," says Madden.
Madden's diagnosis? Severe hyperthyroidsim. She, too, needed surgery.
"I think had Nick not pushed me, had he not been her to guide me through that process, I probably wouldn't be here. That's how severe mine was. I probably would hot have been here," adds Madden.
"I talk to a lot of people, because they don't know about it. Don't even think about it. They're like, it's your thyroid, whatever," says Nelson.
Nick now knows one little gland -- can be a big deal.
Four years after his surgery, he takes a thyroid replacement medication, constantly being tweaked.
"It's going to forever be a work in progress, but I do feel better," says Nelson.
And better -- feels good. A blood test can check thyroid levels. many Americans suffer from the opposite problem Nelson had; they have low thyroid levels. Dr. Brown says if you are experiencing insomnia, fatigue and can't focus, see your doctor your doctor about getting tested for a thyroid disease.