At Holtorf Medical Group, our physicians are frequently asked, “Is thyroid disease an autoimmune disease?”
The answer: Thyroid disease can be an autoimmune disease, it depends on the type of thyroid dysfunction you are experiencing.
Two of the main autoimmune disorders of the thyroid are: Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Graves’ disease.
Before diving into these two conditions, it is important to define what qualifies as an autoimmune disorder:
At its core, autoimmune disease is a chronic malfunction that causes your body’s own defenses to attack healthy tissue. When working as intended, our immune system protects the body through various methods, including antibodies. If the immune system perceives a threat, such as a virus or harmful bacteria, it produces antibodies explicitly designed to attack and eliminate it.
However, in the presence of autoimmune dysfunction, the immune system may incorrectly identify beneficial organisms and structures as a threat thereby motivating the immune system to produce agents to attack healthy cells and tissues. Often, such action results in irreparable damage to the body, bringing a wide array of chronic symptoms.
Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis: An Autoimmune Disorder of the Thyroid
In patients with Hashimoto’s, the immune system incorrectly identifies proteins in the thyroid gland as an invader. This prompts the release of thyroid antibodies in the form of thyroid peroxidase (TPO) and antithyroglobulin. These militants attack the thyroid, which causes irreparable damage and inhibits thyroid functionality. As the assault progresses, symptoms of hypothyroidism, such as fatigue and weight gain, may develop and continually increase in severity.
Unlike typical hypothyroidism where bodily function slowly degrades, Hashimoto’s can cause temporary increases in thyroid hormone levels. When thyroid antibodies attack the thyroid tissue, the damaged cells release stored thyroid hormone into the bloodstream. Such events cause abrupt hormone spikes that produce symptoms similar to those seen in hyperthyroidism. This is known as Hashitoxicosis and is often accompanied by symptoms such as panic attacks, anxiety, racing heartbeat, sweating, jitteriness, diarrhea, and sudden weight loss.
Common symptoms of Hashimoto’s include:
- Hair loss
- Goiters or swelling of the thyroid
Graves’ Disease: An Autoimmune Disorder of the Thyroid
Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system produces too many thyroid-stimulating immunoglobulins. These antibodies falsely attack healthy thyroid cells instead of a specific pathogen or invader. This leads to the thyroid creating too much thyroid hormone, which results in a state of hyperthyroidism.
Common symptoms of Graves’ disease include:
- Weight loss
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
- Tremors in the hands or fingers
Diagnosing an Autoimmune Disorder of the Thyroid
Although the above-listed symptoms are strong indicators of a thyroid condition, it can be difficult to find a knowledgeable endocrinologist capable of identifying and treating thyroid disease.
This is because when testing thyroid function, many doctors only test the levels of Thyroid-Stimulating Hormone (TSH). Although TSH is considered the “gold standard” test by many endocrinologists, there is no consensus on the appropriate reference range for this test. Some endocrinologists consider any number within the reference range (it’s around .40 to 4.0 mlU/L at many US labs) “normal,” and others feel that TSH must be as high as 10 mlU/L. Moreover, this “gold standard” test does not consider the levels of Free T4 and Free T3 — the actual circulating thyroid hormones, nor the antibodies that detect autoimmune thyroid disease (such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis). As a result, you may have sub-normal levels of T4 and T3 (meaning bodily systems are not receiving enough thyroid hormone) yet if your TSH is within the reference range, the endocrinologist may say it’s “normal.” This also means the test will miss thyroid antibodies that show that your thyroid gland is in self-destruct mode and you are suffering from an autoimmune condition.
Once a full thyroid panel is conducted, an experienced endocrinologist can determine if thyroid medication is right for you.
If you are suffering from an autoimmune or thyroid condition and feel you are not getting the help you need, contact Holtorf Medical Group today. On average, our patients have seen 7.2 doctors prior to seeing a Holtorf Medical Group provider for the treatment of autoimmune disease, thyroid disease, Lyme disease, Fibromyalgia, or another chronic condition without significant improvement.
Because we specialize in being medical detectives to uncover the root cause of symptoms, rather than prescribing medications to mask your symptoms, 94% of our patients experience overall improvement by their fourth visit. Call 844-844-2981 to book your appointment today!