Hypothyroidism: Could it be Autoimmune?

Hi Friends!

How many of you have been told you have hypothyroidism?  It’s more common than you might think.  According to verywellhealth.com, 1 in 300 people are diagnosed with hypothyroidism, women are 8 to 9 times more affected than men, and aging also increases your risk.  In order to understand hypothyroidism, we need a basic understanding of normal thyroid processes.  In normal thyroid function, there is communication between the hypothalamus, pituitary gland and thyroid gland in a loop in order to regulate levels of thyroid hormones Thyroxine (T4) and Triiodothyronine (T3) in the body.  Why is this important?  Thyroid hormones affect every single cell in our bodies…every.single.cell.  When we don’t have enough thyroid hormone, that loop will feed back to the hypothalamus and signal the cascade of communication in order to tell the thyroid to make more T3 and T4 hormones.  

How do you know if you might have hypothyroidism?  Here are some symptoms: Fatigue, cold intolerance, constipation, dry skin, weight gain, puffiness (especially in the face), hoarseness in your voice that doesn’t go away, coarse/brittle hair, muscle aches, irregular menstrual cycles, thinning hair, Slow heart rate, depression, memory problems, jaundice, poor growth in kids, enlarged tongue, (in babies) swelling near belly button (umbilical hernia), and delayed puberty.  If you experience several of these, or your child does, your doctor can run tests to check TSH and Free T4.  They may run Total and/or Free T3 too, but not as common.  It is important to speak with your physician if you are concerned about any of these symptoms.

For me, one of the biggest symptoms was fatigue.  I’ve said that there is no tired like thyroid tired.  Seriously.  It’s just different than any other kind of fatigue.  It’s just not easy to understand it unless you’ve experienced it.  Back in the early part of my diagnosis, I was able to sleep through alarms, fall asleep pretty much anywhere and it was virtually impossible to wake me up.  On top of that, I needed at east 3-4 cups of coffee just to feel normal and function daily.  While I have my nights on occasion where I “turn into a pumpkin”, as my husband says, between 10 and 11, getting my thyroid managed and eating to support my body has been key in getting off caffeine and gain energy which has greatly improved my vitality. 

The number one cause of hypothyroidism in the United States is autoimmune, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.  Some other causes are thyroid surgery, radiation, medication, pituitary disorder, pregnancy, and iodine deficiency.  A simple lab test for thyroid antibodies will let determine if the cause of your hypothyroidism is autoimmune or something else.  Thyroglobulin and Thyroid Peroxidase antibody tests are what your doctor will request if autoimmunity is suspected.  Be an advocate for yourself.  If you are concerned about the possibility of an autoimmune disease, ask your doctor to run lab test and don’t take “no” for an answer.  Seek a second opinion if you need to.  Also advocate if you don’t feel the medication (typically Synthroid/Levothyroxine) is working for you.  For me, I needed to add some T3 medication and that made a huge difference.  There are other T4 and T3 medications, synthetic and Natural Desiccated Thyroid.  It’s important to discuss treatment with your doctor and find out what works for your individual body.  I am grateful to have had an advocate for me as a kid, my mom, it gave me the strength as an adult to be my own advocate. 

Why is it important to know if your hypothyroidism is related to an autoimmune Disease?  Well, if you have an autoimmune disease, you are far more likely to get additional ones.  In fact, it’s estimated that 25% of those with an autoimmune disease will develop more.  I myself have three, and suspect a fourth.  Women are also more likely than men to develop multiple autoimmune diseases.  I often wondered why this is.  Is it because of added stresses, perhaps more trauma in women’s pasts or women being less likely to practice “self-care” then Men?  There are theories out there.  We’re all very different and there is no one size fits all in terms of causes or interventions to help.

Getting an autoimmune diagnosis for your hypothyroidism can be overwhelming, especially when the medication that is supposed to help just doesn’t seem to help symptoms.  “Your blood work is normal”, but then why the symptoms?  Most traditional doctors often just run TSH, which doesn’t really show the whole picture, and they don’t really take the time to get to your root cause of your autoimmunity.  This leaves a lot of questions about why you developed the disease and how symptoms can be managed.  There is no “cure” for autoimmunity right now, but there are many things we can do to help ourselves improved or quality of life.  Getting to the source or sources of chronic inflammation that drives autoimmunity is key.  This may mean looking at food choices, toxins, infections, microbiome health and digestion health, sleep and sleep issues, and of course stress.  This is where a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner like me can be a great tool in your toolbox of health.  We can assist you in the journey, so you don’t have to feel so overwhelmed or alone!

In good health!

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor and the information in this post is not meant to be taken as medical advice.  Please speak to your medical professional if you have medical concerns.


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