Jan 6, 2019

Posted by in Featured, Life & Musings | 0 Comments

Hashimoto’s: I have an Autoimmune Disease

I mentioned in my 2018 year in review that one of the things I was nervous about was my own health. January 1st I went to see the phlebotomist to give away some blood for the typical testing they do for a physical exam, however they were also going to test for Hashimoto’s Disease because of my TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) levels. The last thing I wanted to receive from my doctor were positive test results, but unfortunately that’s exactly what I got. Thankfully though, it was caught early. Hashimoto’s has the ability to be devastating, but typically only if it goes undiagnosed for too long.

I’m going to break this into a few chunks, because I have a lot to discuss regarding this: my history with seeing the doctor (and why it’s important), what Hashimoto’s is, and what this means for me. So lets dive right in, there’s no time like the present.

Why you need to get a yearly physical, even if you seem healthy.

I know I’m not alone in this. Growing up I would receive a physical exam only if I was on a sports team, outside of the basics that you need as you develop. My mother was a strong proponent of only going to the doctor when you really had to, and she firmly believed the myth that you went to the doctor (or hospital) to get sick. While it is true that there are higher rates of sick people in these facilities, they’re also aware of it and try to mitigate that. Being the naive child that I was though, I believed my mother and this became my own philosophy too, for years.

So my mother did not go to the doctor unless she had a medical reason to. That was the first example set before me growing up. My other example was a father who had to go to the doctor. Of course, he didn’t just see a GP (general practitioner), dad saw (and still sees) all sorts of specialists, too. I don’t think he goes more than three months without seeing some sort of medical professional, and it has been that way my entire life. So Dad went because he is sick/broken, and Mom only went when she was sick. I didn’t exactly have the role model of someone who was healthy going in and getting a physical. Naturally, I adopted the behaviors before me. No one explained that it needed to be any different, not even my High School health class.

Up until I enrolled at the Center for Natural Wellness School of Massage Therapy, I had not had a physical in well over ten years. At this point in my life, I’ve received a total of maybe five. That number should be more like thirteen for me. Not exactly a great thing. I needed a physical to go to school though, so I went and got one. That was a doozy, too, because they also had to pull eight vials of blood to run teiters (I may have spelled that word wrong lol) on my immunities, since my vaccination records had been lost (and though I had the chicken pox as a child, my mother had them three times so I wanted to make sure on that one). I found out there that I had all my immunities except to mumps, and when I told my mother that she did recall that she found out that from the MMR, mumps also had not stuck for her. So despite having the MMR, I was not immune. That was the first awesome bit of preventative medicine I received by going to the doctor for a physical, despite being a healthy young lady.

Since I was there, when they asked if I wanted to schedule my physical for the following year, I said yes. Might as well. So they set it, and I promptly forgot about it until my calendar notified me that it was coming up (thank goodness for that). That year (last year actually, end of 2017), my blood work came back a bit abnormal, and so they re-tested it and got basically the same results. Again, I was a healthy individual, all my problems were known to me and being handled. If not for the physical, I would not have gone to the doctor.

It was here that I first heard the term “sub-clinical hypothyroidism”, and “Hashimoto’s Disease”. After much discussion with my GP about this, we agreed that I would try non-medicated actions to manage this, including diet, exercise (I failed on both, but it was a stressful year), massage, and acupuncture. Just general self-care things that could affect my body in a way that would facilitate a better appetite, and perhaps better lymphatic function.

After this year’s physical, based on some of the symptoms I was presenting and having a concern with my family health history (It’d be faster to tell you what doesn’t run in my genetics, ugh), we agreed to test for Hashimoto’s Disease as part of my routine bloodwork.

On top of a positive diagnosis for Hashimoto’s Disease, we found that my Vitamin D was almost non-existent (it was at 5, should be up around 30), and that my triglycerides had doubled from last year which can be an indication towards diabetic tendencies (which runs in the family and can be a complication of Hashimoto’s Disease). Again, I typically would not have gone to the doctor for a physical, but school changed that. If it hadn’t, I wouldn’t have this information now, and I wouldn’t have the early diagnosis. Right now I’m still technically sub-clinical for hypothyroidism, but now we know it’s not an if, it’s a when for becoming full-blown hypothyroidism.

So what is Hashimoto’s Disease?

Hashimoto’s Disease, aka Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, aka Chronic Lymphocytic Thyroiditis; is an autoimmune disease where your own immune system creates antibodies that attack the cells of your thyroid. When the thyroid slowly becomes compromised, and ultimately can die, it no longer functions as it should, creating a disease known as Hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism is an under-active thyroid, unlike Hyperthyroidism where it is over-active.

There are other reasons for a thyroid to become under-active, and some have simple solutions (such as one caused by iodine deficiency, this is why iodized salt is a thing). With Hashimoto’s, the only solution is medication. Eventually, you cross the line from sub-clinical (where it’s not as big a concern) into actual hypothyroidism. At this point, you have to work with your doctor to get the correct dosage of medication, which involves frequent blood draws and possible adjustments or combinations of pharmaceuticals to get the levels of TSH, T3, and T4 correct in your system.

Most know that the thyroid helps control your metabolism, so they associate weight gain with hypothyroidism, and weight loss with hyperthyroidism. While both are true, that’s really only the beginning.

As part of the endocrine system, the hormones that the thyroid releases help to regulate your metabolism, which affects your heart rate, breathing, nervous system, body weight, muscle strength/fatigue, menstrual cycle, body temperature, cholesterol, mental health, and more. It’s a really important part of your body’s ability to self-regulate, and when it’s malfunctioning (or missing) it is a very serious thing. Thankfully we have medications to help.

Since Hashimoto’s in an autoimmune disease though, it comes with some extra risk factors. It can be hereditary, first and foremost, so it’s important that your family know about it. There’s a higher risk of birth defects born to women with untreated hypothyroidism caused by Hashimoto’s disease as well. In addition, it can sometimes cause diabetes by starting to attack pancreatic cells as well. These are just a few examples.

There is so much more that could be discussed on this, but there’s no need for me to reinvent the wheel with it. You can learn more from the following places if you are interested:

So what does this mean for me?

Now that I have the official diagnosis, the biggest thing I have to do is accept it, and realize that nothing has changed. It’s so weird how when you put a name to something, you suddenly have a different emotion or reaction to it. The reality of it is, I’m still the same person I was yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that; I just now know that my body is doing something it shouldn’t be. Rather than informing me of my past, it’s informing me of my future. I’m still the same person, I just have different choices before me than I did yesterday.

The thing I’m grateful for (aside from catching it early thanks to a routine physical), is that it explains so much about what I have been experiencing and why no one seemed to have an answer.

I have lived with anxiety, depression, IBS, irregular menstrual cycles, painful menstrual cycles (occasionally), heavy menstrual cycles (occasionally), extreme cold sensitivity, odd hot flashes, weird muscle pains (I thought I might have fibromyalgia and it turns out that Hashimoto’s can masquerade as that), and such for years. Not all is connected, but some certainly is. More recently I have begun to struggle with sleep, I’m often fatigued and sleep poorly, I’m listless, can’t focus, weight gain I struggle to take off and keep off, and more. While I can explain all of these signs and symptoms to other aspects of my life (I really can), it’s likely that some or all of them are either partly or fully a result of this problem that my body has.

For right now, I am not starting levothyroxine (the synthetic hormone replacement). I’m still sub-clinical, so I’m not in any danger. I have another appointment setup for April, where we will recheck the levels of TSH in my system, along with a check to see how my insulin is doing to make sure I’m not pre-diabetic (pray for me). My doctor and I agreed that we’ll watch and wait, but when I do cross from sub-clinical to actual hypothyroidism, I have to start taking medication. I have a feeling that will be before my 30th birthday, in May, based on how my labs came back.

In the mean time, I have started taking chewable Vitamin D gummies every day. The IBS isn’t too keen on introducing new things into the body, so one thing at a time. Vitamin D supplements first (and ones that are vegan not because I am vegan, but because they were the only ones in a good dose that weren’t full of food coloring or fake/additional sugars), and then levothyroxine next. It’s an inevitable conclusion, but if it makes me feel better, that’s what matters most.

So yeah, I have an autoimmune disease. It means despite medications, my body might do weird things, and I’ll have to be on-top of my health. But I have the ability to do that, I caught it early, and I have a good support system so I should be okay. ♥

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