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?
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