Is Your Thyroid Disease an Autoimmune Condition?
Your thyroid is a small gland that can have a big effect on your general health and feelings of well-being. When something is out of balance, it can affect systems throughout your body. Different autoimmune disorders can affect your thyroid in markedly different ways. Symptoms can be wildly different despite having a common root cause. How can this be? Read on to explore the different autoimmune disorders that affect the thyroid and how we diagnose and treat them.
Hypothyroidism vs Hyperthyroidism
There are two general issues that individuals can develop concerning their thyroid gland. The first, hypothyroidism, occurs when your body is not making enough thyroid hormone. Hyperthyroidism, on the other hand, occurs when your body makes too much thyroid hormone.
Hashimoto’s vs Graves’ Disease
Whether you suffer from hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism, the root cause could still be autoimmune disorders. There are two autoimmune issues that affect the thyroid: Hashimoto’s Disease and Graves’ Disease.
Hashimoto’s occurs when your immune system attacks your thyroid gland. This results in inflammation that is also sometimes called chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis. The inflammation can lead your thyroid gland to become underactive, which means that it will not create the thyroid hormones that your body needs to function properly. Hashimoto’s is the most common cause of hypothyroidism among people in the U.S. While it can affect both men and women, it is far more common in women.
Graves’ disease is also the result of the immune system attacking the thyroid gland. However, instead of causing inflammation that suppresses the thyroid gland, Graves’ disease causes the thyroid gland to become overactive. This is because the thyroid gland will behave as if the entire body is under attack; by boosting the metabolism, it is trying to help the body repel invaders. Like Hashimoto’s, Graves’ can strike people of any gender and any age. However, it is far more common in women than in men. Graves’ disease is also more common in people who have a relative who also has had Graves’. For instance, if your mother developed Graves’ disease, you have a higher than average chance of developing the disorder yourself.
Signs and Symptoms of Autoimmune-related Thyroid Disorders
Like other autoimmune disorders, these diseases are more common in people who have had other autoimmune issues. They are also predictors for the development of other autoimmune problems later on, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. If you have a history of autoimmune issues, be sure to discuss these with your doctor.
Diagnosing an Autoimmune Thyroid Condition
Most general practitioners will order blood tests to look at thyroid function. Typically, they will order a TSH test that shows your level of thyroid stimulating hormone. However, this test on its own does not give enough information to tell you whether your thyroid is working as it should. TSH rates can look perfectly normal even when further testing would reveal that the thyroid is not behaving as it should.
Instead, we look at a full thyroid blood panel. A number of other figures will be examined in addition to TSH numbers. Both free and total numbers for T3 and T4, for instance, can give information not just about how much hormone your body is producing, but also how much it is uptaking and using. Reverse T3 numbers can provide further information about your cortisol and stress levels, both of which cause and are exacerbated by autoimmune issues. Further tests that show information about your immune function and numbers like your thyroid peroxidase levels, for instance, can give a fuller picture of your health.
The most important thing to do is listen to your body. You know when something is not quite right. No matter what the labs say, we will listen to you when you talk to us about the symptoms you are experiencing, your personal history and when these symptoms first began to occur. We are dedicated to getting to the root cause of your problems so that we can craft a treatment that works for you.
Conventional treatment for autoimmune thyroid disorders does not differ from thyroid issues that are not autoimmune in nature. Someone who is hyperthyroid may receive medication that combats individual symptoms; for instance, if they are suffering from heart palpitations, they may be prescribed beta blockers to slow their heart rate. Anti-thyroid medications such as propylthiouracil and methimazole may be prescribed to block thyroid function. However, these drugs may lead to a relapse even if they temporarily control hyperthyroid. They are also associated with a high risk of liver disease when taken for extended periods of time.
We do not simply treat your thyroid symptoms. Instead, we look at the underlying causes to see what is leading your body toward an autoimmune response. People who have one autoimmune disorder are at a significantly higher risk for developing additional ones. By looking at root causes, we can help prevent further issues.
We start by examining your diet and digestive system and working to heal any potential issues there. Many people who suffer from autoimmune problems suffer from increased intestinal permeability (leaky gut). By adjusting the diet, we can help ensure that you are getting the nutrition you need and that your body is able to absorb it fully and properly.
Exercise is another key component to identifying issues and addressing them. Stress and poor general health are both highly correlated with autoimmune problems. We work with you to identify the best exercise routine for you. By finding the one that fits, we can help assure that you make a full lifestyle change that sticks.
Supplements can help address any nutritional issues that are contributing to your health problems. We’ll discuss where you may be deficient in nutrients and add them naturally to your diet.
We also can offer bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT). BHRT uses plant or animal substances to add hormones to your body that are just like the ones your body should naturally make. These supplements allow you to enjoy the hormone levels you benefited from when you were younger. The result is higher energy levels, reductions in fatigue and a correction of other issues that can be associated with thyroid problems.
If you are experiencing symptoms that could be caused by thyroid issues, we can help. Make an appointment for a consultation at our Pensacola office today.