For the longest time, I didn’t understand anything about Hashimoto’s Disease. Sure, I knew many of the women on my dad’s side of the family had it, but my knowledge of the disease was limited to just a malfunctioning thyroid. You take some hormone supplements, and off you go.
Wrong. I was so very, very wrong.
Hashimoto’s Disease differs from basic hypo or hyper-thyroidism in that it is an autoimmune disease where thyroid (TPH) antibodies attack the thyroid. By the time I was finally diagnosed in early 2018, we discovered that roughly 20 percent of my right thyroid gland was now damaged scar tissue. In better news, it seems that we caught it early to hopefully begin measures to halt further deterioration. Once I really learned about the multi-faceted symptoms of Hashi, I spent several weeks in grief.
Here are five things that I wish I had known earlier:
- Brain Fog – For nearly a year, I’ve felt like I’ve been walking around in a fog. You know when you are trying to find something without your glasses or contacts, or in the middle of the night? You can faintly make out what’s around you, but when you grasp around, you end up knocking over everything in the process? That’s what it is like to have Hashi brain fog. And for someone who is adept at wordsmithing, it’s beyond frustrating. Even as I write this, I’m vacillating between my need for perfection and the grace necessary to continue what I love, despite my vocabulary and syntax falling below what I would consider up to my standards. I misspell words often now, and I forget items on a short grocery list. It’s maddening. This week, I walked out of the house without my kids’ summer camp lunches, and despite working from home, didn’t notice them sitting on the counter all day.
- Hormonal changes – These can trigger Hashi; my doctor explained to me that my my autoimmune response to my thyroid can likely be attributed to low estrogen levels. He said when women of child-bearing age experience strong hormonal changes through pregnancy, it can influence how well the thyroid works. I also discovered that most women with Hashi endure multiple miscarriages. I have experienced three in my five pregnancies. I sobbed for hours mulling that over, warning my heart not to go into “What if” mode. That’s a dark and ugly path that has no exit. But I did allow myself to grieve what I know now that I didn’t know then. I granted myself forgiveness for doing the best I could with what I had at the time. Fluctuating hormone levels from those miscarriages likely compounded my problem.
- Prevention – There are ways to maintain your thyroid early on to prevent Hashi. While the disease is influenced by both genes and environment, my doctor explained some practical steps that all women of child-bearing age should be aware of. Getting your hormone levels tested every couple of years is a must, especially if you are experiencing difficulty getting or staying pregnant. Secondly, Vitamin D is of the essence in maintaining a healthy thyroid – not just some sunshine or through diet. Start taking a supplement as soon as possible before you begin family planning. Additionally, add a multi-vitamin with plenty of selenium, iodine, and iron. Low levels of these necessary vitamins create ripe conditions for thyroid dysfunction. I have felt significantly better adding methyl folate and glutathione as well. Switching to a gluten-free diet has dramatically reduced some of my autoimmune symptoms in regards to digestion, rashes, and energy levels.
- Connect the dots – Symptoms of an underactive thyroid include, but aren’t limited to: fatigue, brain fog, sleepiness, weight gain, anxiety, depression, hair loss, cold hands and feet, digestive issues, brittle nails, and thinning of the outside part of the eyebrow. For years, I sought treatment for many of these individually, attributing them to their own dysfunction. It seemed like I was taking medications for everything. Now I understand that they were all interconnected with the linchpin of my thyroid as the cause. If you are experiencing some or many of these symptoms, broaden your scope into how they might be connected.
- Get a full thyroid panel – I had several thyroid panels run over the years, but until my most recent one, they only measured a couple of markers such as T3 and T4. Make sure you get a full thyroid panel that also measures your TPH antibodies. If your doctor balks at that, stand your ground. Demand the full panel. If not, you can always order a home testing kit through EverlyWell, which is what I did. They shipped it to my house, I had a nurse friend prick my finger and help with the collection, and I mailed it right off. I had my results in less than a week. If you do find that your levels are low (and don’t rely just on general doctors to determine that), make an appointment with an endocrinologist who specializes in this particular disease. My endo has taken those labs and several others that he ran during our first appointment and customized a health plan for my specific levels and needs.
With its myriad of symptoms, Hashimoto’s Disease is an often overlooked diagnosis, and honestly, who doesn’t chalk up their exhaustion to raising tiny humans? Many of these symptoms easily mirror side effects of our normal hormonal cycles, so it is easy to wave it off as innocuous. However, your thyroid controls every single hormone in your body, including the reproductive and sexual ones, so get checkout out as soon as possible if you are experiencing one or more of those symptoms. You just may find that the answer has been in your thyroid all along.