Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is a common cause of hypothyroidism that is often misdiagnosed as depression or other mental health conditions.
Imagine having all the symptoms of a major mental illness such as manic depression, paranoid schizophrenia, psychotic depression, or even bipolar disorder. One day you wake up with overflowing physical energy, even feeling severely anxious, with a rapid heartbeat, profuse sweating, trembling hands, and diarrhea, and you cannot stop losing weight.
Then soon enough, without warning, your energy plummets. You feel like a slug, are constipated, your hair starts falling out, you gain weight no matter how little you eat, and you are severely depressed. You may have difficulty swallowing, sound hoarse, and feel like you have swallowed something that will not go down. And then, suddenly, your old symptoms return, and you feel anxious, sweaty, trembling, and panicky. This cycle can repeat itself again and again.
While your symptoms resemble a mental health issue, they could be signs of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, one cause of hypothyroidism. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, also known as autoimmune thyroiditis or simply “Hashimoto’s, is caused by an autoimmune disorder. In this case, the body’s immune system sees the thyroid gland as a foreign body and begins to attack, damaging, and killing thyroid cells along the way. As the cells are damaged or destroyed, they release their stored thyroid hormone, causing classic hyperthyroid symptoms such as anxiety, panic attacks, shaking hands, sweating, and a racing heart.
Each autoimmune attack causes more and more damage to the thyroid gland until, ultimately, the gland is no longer able to produce adequate thyroid hormones. Every cell in the body needs thyroid hormones, so a deficiency can wreak havoc on the entire system, causing depression, weight gain, severe fatigue, brain fog, memory loss, and even overall body aches.
With such a dramatic swing in symptoms, it is easy to see how Hashimoto’s disease could be misdiagnosed as a mental illness like manic depression or bipolar disorder. And it happens much too often. A 1987 study found that as many as 15% of patients admitted to a psychiatric hospital for depression actually were suffering from some level of hypothyroidism.
Symptoms of Hashimoto’s
At first, Hashimoto’s can produce little to no symptoms. But as the disease progresses, the body will cycle between hyperthyroid symptoms and hypothyroid symptoms, until ultimately the patient becomes permanently hypothyroid. Symptoms vary based on whether the thyroid is under attack or at rest, but can include:
- Panic attacks
- Unexplained weight gain or weight loss
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Feeling excessively cold or hot
- Weakness and fatigue
- Muscle and joint pain or achiness
- Hair loss
- Irregular periods
- Difficulty concentrating or thinking clearly, confusion, forgetfulness
- Hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, or a tight feeling in the throat
Getting the Right Diagnosis
Thyroid hormone lab tests such as the TSH, Free T4, Free T3, and Reverse T3 can diagnose hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism, but to get a clear picture of potential autoimmune thyroid disease, you must check for increased antibodies that are specific to thyroid proteins. These include thyroid peroxidase (TPO) and antithyroglobulin; however, it’s important to know that these antibodies can be at normal levels and a patient still have Hashimoto’s disease. It can also be useful to check levels of thyroid-stimulating immunoglobulin (TSI), which can be seen in Graves’ disease, another autoimmune thyroid disorder.
Proper Treatment for Hashimoto’s
If lab tests or symptoms indicate Hashimoto’s, it is important to begin treatment as soon as possible to help avoid further damage to the thyroid gland. In addition to thyroid hormone replacement therapy, the following treatment options should be explored.
- Supplements such as selenium can help lower antibody levels while strengthening the immune system
- Treatment of any chronic bacterial or viral infections can also be important in managing autoimmune thyroid disease. Often, these infections can initiate the immune system dysfunction
- Regulating the immune system can make a very positive difference in autoimmune disorders like Hashimoto’s. Medications including low-dose Naltrexone and gamma-globulin can help balance immune system activity and reduce attacks.
Getting the Care That You Deserve
The violent swings of Hashimoto’s disease can be very frightening, not only for the patient who has the autoimmune disease, but also for friends and family who watch their loved one struggling, but with proper diagnosis and treatment, the symptoms of Hashimoto’s can be resolved.
At Holtorf Medical Group, our physicians are trained to provide you with cutting-edge testing and innovative treatments to properly diagnose and treat your autoimmune thyroid disease, optimize your health, and improve your quality of life. If you have been diagnosed with Hashimoto’s but aren’t getting the treatment you need or if you have symptoms associated with thyroid dysfunction, contact us today to see how we can help you!