Hypothyroidism (or low thyroid function) is on the rise and affects 1 in 10 women in North America. The most common cause of hypothyroidism? You may be surprised to know that it’s an autoimmune condition called Hashimoto’s Disease.
In Hashimoto’s disease, the immune system produces antibodies against the thyroid. Overtime, this causes damage to the thyroid gland and eventually hypothyroidism. While Hashimoto’s affects primarily the thyroid, it’s not just a thyroid condition – it’s an autoimmune condition.
Testing for thyroid antibodies is the only way to truly know if you have Hashimoto’s disease. However, these are some of the signs and symptoms I see in people who have an autoimmune thyroid condition. These are usually in addition to the ‘regular’ or classic symptoms of hypothyroidism such as fatigue, trouble losing weight, cold body temperature and constipation.
1. You still feel like $h*t on Synthroid
Maybe you’ve been on thyroid medication for years (or decades!) but have never felt quite right. While thyroid medication can improve the hormone levels in your blood, it doesn’t address the inflammation and autoimmune process that happens with Hashimoto’s Disease. Without treating the inflammation your symptoms can continue to worsen over time even with “normal” thyroid tests.
2. You have digestive symptoms like bloating, gas, heartburn, diarrhea/constipation OR have been previously diagnosed with IBS
What does the gut have to do with our thyroid? A healthy digestive system is key to proper immune function. If you’ve experienced long-term gut issues, have been previously diagnosed with “IBS” or have never been well since something like food poisoning, Hashimoto’s should be on your radar.
3. You experience random skin rashes or hives
This is another sign that the immune system is out of control and reacting to things it shouldn’t be. It is also a tell-tale sign that the gut isn’t working properly (see above!)
4. You have joint pain or feel puffy all the time
Autoimmune conditions often affect muscles and joints and can lead to constant aches and pains. Swelling, redness, and pain are all signs of inflammation, which goes hand-in-hand with autoimmune conditions and Hashimoto’s disease.
5. You already have an autoimmune condition
Having one autoimmune condition increases your risk for developing others. Autoimmune conditions seen frequently with Hashimoto’s include Rheumatoid Arthritis, Celiac disease, Crohn’s Disease, Ulcerative Colitis, Pernicious anemia, Vitiligo, and more.
6. Other members of your family have a thyroid condition
There is also a strong genetic link to Hashimoto’s and other autoimmune conditions. I often see autoimmune conditions being present in multiple members of the same family such as sisters, mothers and daughters. Remember, Hashimoto’s is much more common in females! If your family has a strong history of thyroid conditions, or a relative has been diagnosed with Hashimoto’s or other autoimmune condition, you’ll definitely want to pursue testing.
6. Your thyroid condition was first diagnosed at a young age or after the birth of a child
I often see Hashimoto’s being diagnosed more commonly in young women between 20 and 30 years old. Pregnancy and postpartum is another time where a change in hormones and the immune system can ignite an autoimmune thyroid condition.
The Bottom Line
If you have been previously diagnosed with hypothyroidism I encourage you to also have your thyroid antibodies checked to rule out Hashimoto’s Disease (Your MD or ND can do this). You’ll want to ask specifically for Thyroid Peroxidase Antibodies (AntiTPO) and Thyroglobulin Antibodies (TgAb).
You can also check out my other blog post here on what tests you need for a complete thyroid assessment.
Have questions? We’re here to help!
Dr. Katie Rothwell, ND