The Mysterious Thyroid

The Mysterious Thyroid

Before I went to the doctor last fall for my annual physical, my mother mentioned offhand an article she had read about thyroid disease and how some of the symptoms can look like rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. She encouraged me to get my thyroid hormone levels tested and speak with my general practitioner, especially because I have other family members who have experienced thyroid problems.

Out of curiosity, I did ask my GP about thyroid problems during my appointment and if it was worthwhile to get tested as a part of my blood work. She explained that thyroid problems are fairly rare, but that hypothyroidism (or an under active thyroid) can have symptoms that overlap with RA. For example fatigue and weight gain are symptoms of this condition and experienced by many RA patients.

My test results came back with subclinical hypothyroidism, meaning that my thyroid-stimulating hormone was slightly high because it’s trying to induce the thyroid to be more active. Many people with subclinical hypothyroidism experience a mild version of the symptoms and will eventually develop the full condition, requiring treatment by medication. There’s currently debate in the medical field about if a subclinical case should be treated. In fact, a recent study found no benefits to the patient for treating subclinical cases.

In my case, after speaking with my doctor we decided just to keep a watch on my thyroid hormone levels and not start any treatments. When I go back this year for my physical, we will test again to monitor and re-assess as needed.

What is funny to me is that my fatigue and intolerance of cold temperatures may not simply be a part of my RA. Perhaps it is the thyroid problem. Or maybe it is a little bit of both conditions?

In the meantime, I am glad to have learned about this condition and the symptoms. I periodically keep an eye on how I am feeling and know that if my fatigue should worsen dramatically or if I experience other symptoms (like depression or memory problems), that I would go back to the doctor sooner rather than later. Also, if I move from subclinical to a full diagnosis, I would seek out an endocrinologist for consultation. Other hypothyroidism symptoms include: dry skin, brittle nails, yellowish skin, constipation, facial or limb swelling, and hoarse voice.

Researchers are not sure why, but there’s a lot of overlap with people experiencing both RA and hypothyroidism. In fact, Hashimoto’s Disease is when the autoimmune system attacks the thyroid, causing hypothyroidism. Sound familiar? RA attacks joints, why not small organs too?

All kidding aside, it’s a puzzle why so many of the symptoms are similar or overlapping. I get hoarse voice just about every morning and am not sure if it is an RA side effect or subclinical hypothyroidism.

What I do know, is that hypothyroidism can be managed with medication and regular visits to a doctor. The thyroid may be mysterious, but it is an important organ to watch and take care of for long-term health.

In my mind, I think hormones do interact with RA and likely vice versa. It makes sense that our interconnected bodily systems can run into other problems with these chronic conditions. The best we can do is keep on top of our health and be as proactive and preventive as possible. Perhaps someday we will better understand these connections in order to improve our whole health picture.

Have you experienced hormone changes or interactivity with your rheumatoid arthritis? Any advice for managing these issues?

Check out Tamara’s article on her experience with hypothyroidism and RA for more information.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (11)
  • 2 years ago

    Hey Kelly,

    Just my 2 cents.

    I have Hashimoto’s , Raynaud’s and RA. I deeply researched bacterial and viral causation for RA over the past year. And, from my research I suspected that they are all tied in together, caused by one or more bacterial or viral invaders.

    As I began treating my RA naturally, assuming that I have one or more bacterial infections, I began to get better. Within a couple of months, all of my inflammatory markers were back to normal or near normal range AND my hypothyroid T3/T4 levels came back into range.

    So, not being a doctor or scientist, I have an amateur hypothesis about how this all goes down. I won’t go into every detail here, but in general, I believe this:

    – I believe that when we get mono(EBV) or chickenpox or whatever other bacterial illness, that it’s possible that they never really leave your body. You immune system puts them away and keeps them away. Until, some stressful incident causes a drop in our immune system, which then allows these bacteria and viruses to begin to reestablish and then flourish. Kind of like when your 6th grade teacher left the room, all the kids went crazy, because no one was there to keep them seated and quiet. We already know that this happens with the varicella zoster virus, which is the virus that causes chickenpox. In some people, that chickenpox virus is able to reactivate and cause shingles. All I’m saying is that I believe that many viruses and bacteria are able to do this, under the right conditions. Also note that the chickenpox don’t come back as chickenpox, they come back as shingles. So, you can also entertain the thought that when other viruses or illnesses reactivate, the symptoms of the reactivation might no be the same as the symptoms of the original virus.

    – I also believe that environmental and dietary conditions can slow or speed the process of getting chronically ill. But, I think that stress is also a factor, if not even a requirement. How many of you reading this had some stressful event before your RA took hold? I did. And I was becoming symptomatic within 6 weeks of that initial stress. It could be a car accident, death in the family, divorce or any number of things. Either way, stress is really, really bad.

    – I believe that the thyroid is a real focus area for infection. And, infection of the thyroid deepens the symptoms and helps the infection thrive by interfering with the thyroids work.

    Here is an interesting interview that I found somewhere along the way. I re-read it tonight and it matches up with everything that I have experienced. the only difference is that I have not used antibiotics. I have only used natural antibiotics like olive leaf, oregano oil, borax water, cannabis oil, etc.

    http://www.thyroid-info.com/articles/brownstein.htm

    Anyway, thank you for writing about this, as I do feel it’s a really important part of our illness. Thanks also to those reading for allowing me to express my opinion. I respect those who believe differently, but feel that it’s my duty to share in the things that have helped me. My heart breaks for everyone on this site and I hope that every one of you can attain the level of healing that I have. I’m not perfect by any stretch, but i’m way, way better than I was a year ago.

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    1 year ago

    Thanks so much for sharing these thoughts and article. Very interesting stuff and lots of food for thought here! Hope you are staying well. Best, Kelly

  • Patricia
    2 years ago

    Several years before I got my RA diagnosis, I was having all the thyroid symptoms & my primary care dr. tested all those levels and was concerned enough to make an appointment for me with an Endocrinologist. That dr. even had me do a nuclear med test to rule out thyroid cancer. Luckily, no cancer; but it took about a year to get the dosage of meds just right, so now I take one pill every morning on an empty stomach. My primary care dr. tests me every 6 months to be sure everything is still under control. I feel much better than I did before starting the treatment. My Rheumatologist tells me that thyroid problems and RA tend to go hand in hand; both being autoimmune diseases.

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    1 year ago

    Hi Patricia, glad to hear that you have found some help with your health conditions. There’s lots of research suggesting interactions between autoimmune diseases and thyroid diseases. Glad that you are feeling better! Stay well! Best, Kelly

  • LifenowwithRD
    2 years ago

    I have Hashimoto’s along with RA, and Eczema. The trifecta of autoimune diseases I guess…lucky me. My “hypothyroidism” was diagnosed about 10 years before RA. I was also considered subclinical, but my dr said its better to treat it right away than let it get too out of control. In addition to a TSH, your dr should also be ordering a thyroperoxidase test and T3, T4 to confirm the diagnosis. A TSH alone cannot be the only test done. If you see an endocrinologist, all of these tests will be performed along with (sometimes) an ultrasound. I feel that when we have 1 autoimmune disease, we are way more at risk for more, and in everything I read about RA, Hashimoto’s is closely related.

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    1 year ago

    Hi there, thanks so much for the tips! Will ask about these tests with my doctors. Totally agree that people living with autoimmune diseases have to be vigilant as we may experience other related health issues. Take care! Best, Kelly

  • MrsTex50
    2 years ago

    Hi, Tamara. I have hypothyroidism. However, mine’s caused because I had Graves’ Disease (hyperthyroidism) so severely, my thyroid had to be destroyed (iodine radiation treatment). So I take levothyroxine to keep my levels normal. I have my TSH levels checked every 6 months to make sure my medication dosage is where it needs to be. I think all women should have TSH levels checked as part of their physicals since hyper/hypothyroidism tends to happen more to women, especially after having a baby. However, I didn’t get RA until 20+ years after my thyroid went kaflooey. I wonder if you have an auto-immune disease (even from a long time ago) are you more likely to get other immune diseases. I think there’s a connection there.

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    1 year ago

    Hi MrsTex50, thanks for your comment. Totally agree that its good for everyone to have their thyroid checked periodically. I, personally, think autoimmune diseases can be connected to the thyroid or other hormone issues. Appreciate your support. Best, Kelly

  • Richard Faust moderator
    2 years ago

    Hi MrsTex50. Comorbidities certainly do seem to go hand in hand with autoimmune conditions. This article from our editorial team takes a look at comorbidities and RA:

    https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/medical-conditions-occurring-along-with-ra/.

    Also, this article from one of our contributors looks at those conditions that seem to tag along with RA (or vice-versa): https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/living/would-like-something-with-that-maam/.

    Thanks for being part of the community. Best, Richard (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

  • Carla Kienast
    2 years ago

    Hi Tamara: What a timely article for me. Even though my thyroid levels are in range, I seem to have developed a couple of real nodules and a rash of cysts in my thyroid. I’m inclined to blame either RA or methotrexate or both — but it’s off to the endocrinologist with me. (Sigh. Just what I need — another doctor!)

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    1 year ago

    Thanks Carla! Hope you find the doctor helpful! Good luck! Best, Kelly

  • Poll