Thyroid 101

So what do you know about autoimmune disorders? (Remember this article?)  What do you know about your thyroid?  The thyroid disease topic comes up for me a lot and I answer tons of questions about it since I have Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. So here is a little Thyroid 101.

So what IS your Thyroid?    

The thyroid is a large butterfly shaped gland that sits in the front part of the neck. For most people, you never have to be concerned about it being there! It reliably pumps out thyroid hormone that is responsible for a bevy of your bodies functions, most notably your metabolism. Sometimes, the function of this gland can go awry. Here are the two most common causes of Thyroid Disease!

Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis

Hashimoto’s is your own bodies attack on the thyroid gland causing an “under active” thyroid. Your body recognizes this important gland as a foreign invader instead of your own tissue and starts making antibodies against it. These antibodies attack the gland and cause it to malfunction.  Over time, this causes a decrease in thyroid function and decreased thyroid hormone production which is the cause of the many symptoms associated with the condition. Common symptoms are: coldness, dry skin, fatigue, brain fog, weight gain, irregular or heavy periods, and constipation, just to name a few. (I know…sounds fun.)

This autoimmune attack is difficult to control and there are no current medications to stop the attack. The treatment for Hashimoto’s is a tiny pill made up of thyroid hormone that you need to take once the thyroid is unable to produce enough hormone for your body.

Grave’s Disease

At the opposite end of the thyroid spectrum is Grave’s Disease. This condition is autoimmune over-activation of the thyroid. While antibodies destroy the thyroid in Hashimoto’s a different type of antibody is formed in Grave’s that binds the thyroid and causes it to be over stimulated. Grave’s causes symptoms such as heart palpitations, frequent sweating, anxiety, diarrhea and bulging eyes among others (yes, these also sounds great…).

Unlike the single treatment for Hashimoto’s there are a few avenues to treat Grave’s Disease such as prescription drugs that decreased the thyroid function, radioactive iodine treatment that binds the thyroid, and also surgical intervention.

The Bottom Line

Like all other autoimmune disorders, women of child-bearing age are most at risk for developing Hashimoto’s. For every 10 women who have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, 1 man will get it. Yup, you heard me…we are TEN TIMES more likely to have this disorder.  It is estimated that Grave’s Disease affects up to TWO PERCENT of females. Combine these two diagnoses and we are looking at a huge number of women dealing with thyroid disease.

Autoimmunity is one of the TOP TEN causes of fatality in women under 65 years old and the 4th leading cause of disability in women.  According to the NIH Autoimmune Disorders affect over 23 million people in the United States. Think about this: heart disease affects 22 million per year. And we have an entire month dedicated to heart health and awareness, however many people have never heard of autoimmune disorders.

So What Can You Do?

You may be wondering what you can do! Having your thyroid checked is easy. At your annual physical or ob-gyn exam, make sure your health care provider feels your neck and checks your thyroid with a manual exam. This usually means they feel around the gland and have you swallow a few times when they are pushing on the gland to feel it move. (quick and painless!) You can also ask to have your “thyroid function” tested in blood work which is a simple panel of blood tests.

Are you an Autoimmune Warrior dealing with thyroid disease? If so, I would LOVE to hear from you and how you manage your symptoms.  Comment below or say hello at megan@meganmcgrane.com!

Resources To Check Out:

6 Ways to Help Your Thyroid Mind Body Green

13 Ways To Treat Hypothyroidism Naturally-MindBodyGreen

Other Resources

http://www.everydayhealth.com/autoimmune-disorders/understanding/women-and-autoimmune-diseases.aspx

https://www.aarda.org/women_and_autoimmunity.php

https://www.aarda.org/autoimmune_statistics.php

http://www.endocrine.niddk.nih.gov/pubs/graves/

12 Responses

  1. Megan—you know my story. Graves’ disease initially treated with medications. I opted for surgical removal and was fine until six months after the surgery where I was overactive again. This time the meds worked and I was able to be weaned off without a problem. A few months before I got married my manager noticed a lump in my neck. I was having intermittent palpitations but I was getting married and chalked it up to pre wedding stress. Low and behold it was overactive again. Back on meds. When I got pregnant the wanted me to be overactive so my med dose was lowered. Approximately one year after I gave birth I opted for radioactive iodine treatment. I am currently on synthroid. I don’t know if being tired all the time or running on all 8 cylinders was better. I know there are worse things to have deal with. That’s my story

    • Megan

      Nina–
      Thank you so much for sharing. Your story is an important one: you have experienced both sides of the thyroid spectrum! While thyroid issues can be uncomfortable, you are 100% right about there being worse things–these are diagnoses we can learn to manage well.

  2. There are studies that found selenium intake reduces the attacks on the thyroid. I usually add 2 Brazil nuts which are high in selenium to my smoothies or just eat them every day and I have seen my thyroid antibodies reduce in my lab work. Here is a good article I found: http://chriskresser.com/selenium-the-missing-link-for-treating-hypothyroidism
    Also I have seen a huge difference when taking fish oil which reduces inflammation. At the end of the day it’s a lot of trial and error to see what makes works for you.

    • Megan

      Sara, Thank so much for sharing! Im glad selenium helps you too. I love Brazil nuts! I will have try them in a smoothie now. I agree that good quality Fish Oil is great for reducing inflammation. It has so many benefits when it comes to inflammatory conditions, autoimmunity and the brain! Right on!

  3. Hi Megan,

    All of the females in my family have a thyroid disorder whether it’s Hashimoto’s or Graves. My mom had 3 miscarriages after me and was never able to have another child. I had my daughter Olivia at 31 with no problems. Then I developed an over active thryroid with my second pregnancy and lost the pregnancy at 14 weeks. I became pregnant a few months later and my thyroid again became over active and I lost the pregnancy after 38 days. I was told I could be on PTU for one year or have my thyroid radiated. So I chose to have my thyroid radiated with radioacative iodine and was pregnant 5 months later with my son Joseph. I will be taking Synthroid forever and my thyroid function is always low despite my medication but I don’t regret my decision.

    • Megan

      Emma–
      WOW–I am so thankful for your candor! What an amazing example of someone who has really dealt with it all when it comes to thyroid disorder. Your story is so helpful because not many women are willing to tell others about this side of autoimmune disease or thyroid dysfunction. Thank you.
      Now I know why you, too, wear tall socks over your leggings before class starts in an 80 degree room!! I certainly credit your classes at PF with helping ease my symptoms of hashi’s and reynaud’s. (especially during these cold winter days!). Thank you again!!

  4. Megan – thanks so much for sharing and for creating community around autoimmune disorders! my 5 year old daughter, Lucy, was recently diagnosed with graves and t1d. we have seen such improvements in her condition after changing to a paleo-ish : ) diet and trying some other natural alternatives. I’m glad to have found your blog!!

    • Megan

      Elizabeth! Thank you so much for reaching out. Im SO glad you have seen your daughter’s health change for the better from Paleo as well as other alternative treatments. Combining many approaches; western, eastern, & functional medicine, has played a huge roll in my autoimmune story. Hope you find the site helpful & don’t hesitate to reach out!!

  5. We’re a group of volunteers and opening a new scheme in our community.
    Your site offered us with valuable info to work on.
    You have done an impressive job and our whole community will be
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  6. Megan: have you had thyroid imaging studies (an ultrasound)?

    • Megan

      Yes absolutely, every 6 months! I will be blogging about my adventures with ultrasound and nodule biopsy very soon. Thanks for reading!

      • Thank you for replying to my comment. I am looking forward to read about your imaging studies.
        The ultrasound testing has its limitations because the accuracy variation from machine to machine (can be as much as 2mm; therefore if nodule changes it size +/- 1 mm it is considered stable) the measurements are done by operator who stops the video stream and places cursors using mouse so this (operator variation) affects the final data as well.
        Next, 10% shift in frequency causes false changes in the image which leads to false diagnostics. Therefore it is very important to have the machine calibrated.
        Finally air pockets between transducer and skin can produce artifacts (this is why gel is used)
        On the side note I am very allergic to it so when I had to do ultrasound on the patient (one time) my hands above the gloves were red and itchy.
        I am currently trying to validate an accuracy of thyroid self-check (aka Check your neck!). I need to analyze relationship between the nodule size (cm), its location in the gland (lobe or isthmus) and patient’s neck circumference in cm, because some quite large nodules can be missed from visual detection.

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