No one wants to get a call from their doctor at 7:00 am saying, “Hi Cassie, do you have a minute to talk?” For me, that call came when my doctor wanted to discuss my lab results indicating I have a condition called Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.
According to the American Thyroid Association, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is the most common cause of hypothyroidism or low thyroid. It is classified as an autoimmune disorder meaning the body attacks the thyroid gland through antibodies. It leads to chronic inflammation of the thyroid gland, and after many years, it slows and then stops the proper functioning of the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland is important because it plays a key role in our metabolism. Our brain releases a hormone, called thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), that tells the thyroid gland to release the three hormones produced by the thyroid gland, T3, T4, and calcitonin. Hashimoto’s is underdiagnosed as many people do not discover it until their thyroid gland has slowed or stopped working.
So, what lead my doctor to test an otherwise healthy 27-year-old for an autoimmune condition? Let’s take it back a couple of years.
When I was in pharmacy school, I would brag that I did not drink caffeine. I studied hours on end, day after day, without coffee, tea, caffeine shots, or soda. After finishing my doctorate program, I went on to residency. During my pharmacy residency, something was off. My energy levels declined, and I didn’t feel the same as I always had previously. I went to my doctor at the time, and he ran a full panel of lab work. It all came back normal. He simply said, “this is the life of a resident” and I believed him.
Fast forward three years, and my symptoms had worsened. I started gaining weight, experiencing extreme fatigue, episodes of every joint in my body aching, cold intolerances, irritable bowel syndrome, dry skin, and hair loss. I had changed doctors now, and again, he ran labs, and they were normal. The normal labs included testing my TSH, the most common lab run to check thyroid levels. Next, he did what a thorough doctor does. He started to dig deeper. This required another set of labs, including markers for multiple types of autoimmune conditions. A couple of days later, when I got the call, all my labs were normal, except the autoimmune antibodies for Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.
Deciding whether to treat my Hashimoto’s was a decision my doctor and I came to together. He told me according to the guidelines; I was not indicated for treatment. However, I was experiencing severe symptoms, and he felt treatment could help. If I wanted to start treatment, it meant I would be on treatment for life. Getting the diagnosis was liberating. I finally had answers. I finally could do something about it. My doctor suggested my family be tested as well. Since my diagnosis, my father and my sister have both been diagnosed. That doctor changed my life and my family’s lives for the better.
According to the Office of Women’s Health, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis affects women 4-10 times more than men, and women tend to have more severe symptoms than men. Hashimoto’s is linked to other conditions in women, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome, miscarriage, and infertility. Early diagnosis does not cure Hashimoto’s; however the earlier someone is diagnosed, the more they can slow the destruction of their thyroid gland. This helps to alleviate symptoms and improve quality of life. I know I am lucky I had a great doctor that dug deeper and advocated for me. My dad’s doctor did not take much convincing to order the proper labs. My dad had a lot of symptoms, and at that point in time, his thyroid function was slowing down. My sister’s doctor took a significant amount of convincing, and her doctor did not give her the option to treat her symptoms because her other lab work is still in the normal range.
We as patients must advocate for ourselves most of the time, especially when we know something is off with our bodies. If you are concerned you have a problem with your thyroid, please research the different underlying conditions that can affect the thyroid gland. Utilize trustworthy medical resources such as the American Thyroid Association, the Office on Women’s Health, and the National Institutes of Health. Make lists of your concerns and what lab work you would like to see ordered, and talk through this with your doctor. Our bodies are a puzzle, and each piece needs to be in the proper place for the puzzle to look as it should.