Is it mental illness, or hashimoto’s disease?

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Imagine having all the symptoms of a major mental illness such as manic depression, paranoid schizophrenia, psychotic depression, or even a 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 can’t 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 wont 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 disease, one of the most common causes of hypothyroidism.

Hashimoto’s disease, 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 classing 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’s 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 disease

At first, Hashimoto’s disease 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:

Anxiety

Panic attacks

Insomnia

Unexplained weight gain or weight loss

Diarrhea or constipation

Feeling excessively cold or hot

Weakness and fatigue

Muscle and join 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

Standard 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 a potential autoimmune thyroid disease, you must check for increased antibodies that are specific to thyroid proteins. These include thyroid peroxidase (TPO) and antithyroglobulin. But 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 grave’s disease, another autoimmune thyroid disorder.

Treatment

If lab tests or symptoms indicate hashimoto’s disease, the best line of treatment is thyroid hormone replacement therapy. And while many doctors like to take a wait-and-see approach, early treatment of autoimmune thyroid disease can actually stop the autoimmune attacks and thus stop the damage to the thyroid.

In addition to thyroid hormone replacement therapy, supplements such as selenium can help lower antibody levels while strengthening the immune system. A connection has been found between selenium deficiency and thyroid inflammation, possibly leading to hashimoto’s disease.

Treatment of any chronic bacterial or viral infections can also be important in managing autoimmune thyroid disease. Often, these infections can cause immune system dysfunction, and treatment can result in reversal of hashimoto’s disease.

Strengthening the immune system can make a very positive difference in autoimmune disorders like hashimoto’s disease. Strengthening the immune system with immune boosters, such as low-dose Naltrexone and gamma-globulin, can help balance immune system activity and reduce attacks. Treatment of leaky gut can also be beneficial, as can taking supplements known to decrease inflammation, including turmeric, quercetin and bromelain.

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 stormy seas of hashimoto’s disease can soon become calm waters.

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