What Caused My Underactive Thyroid?

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A lot sources, such as Thyroid Pharmacist Izabella Wentz for example, promote finding out what caused your underactive thyroid/Hypothyroidism to occur i.e. what triggered our Hashimoto’s (if it’s autoimmune), in order to set it in to remission and recover. 

Now, I’m convinced that my thyroid condition is too far gone to completely reverse and come off of thyroid medication, plus, I think it’s more positive to focus on the present and future, and not dwell on the past. I’ve accepted I have this lifelong condition now; time to move forward!

But it is still interesting and helpful to try and figure out what lead to my development of hypothyroidism, so that I know better for the future, can advise others and learn by my mistakes. 

I  know now that I always had the ‘gene’ or dispoisiton to develop Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. My mother, looking back, showed many of the typical undiagnosed hypothyroid signs and symptoms, so I’m sure she had it. My GP has also told me that for a woman, she has a one in three chance of passing it on to a daughter. My mum had three daughters, and as far as I know, I’m the only one who is hypothyroid (and has Hashimoto’s). So the numbers add up here.

With that in mind, Hashimoto’s is described by many as being ‘triggered’. I’m going to explore what I think my triggers were.

It began at sixteen, when I caught swine flu. Yep, remember when the country was in panic about swine flu and they were putting people with it in to quarantine? Well, I didn’t end up in quarantine but I did apparently have it and it was bad. Once I’d gotten over having it, I was left with this aching in my legs which would come and go. It confused me, because months, even a year, had passed, and I was still getting these random aches and pains in my calves. It didn’t just happen when I walked a lot or was very busy the day before; there was no pattern. No one had an answer for me. So I just put it down to a ‘lasting effect’ of having had swine flu. – Some kind of permanent damage it had maybe done to my legs that no one was too bothered about.

At seventeen, I experienced a lot. I went through a very stressful and rather traumatic year involving my family, which left me with anxiety disorder and suicidal depression. I didn’t cope well with the situation at all and it really did a lot of damage to me emotionally and mentally. I was put on antidepressants for being suicidal, but the situation I was in didn’t get any better, so they didn’t do much.

I believe this stress and antidepressants to have weakened my immune system (some adrenal stress here), enabling me to catch another very odd strain of flu (or at least that’s how the doctors at the hospital described it), at seventeen years old also.

After a week at home of no sleep, dehydration, constant vomiting and hallucinations, I was took in to hospital. Initially, A&E doctors told me to stop being over dramatic and wanted to send me home, but I begged to be seen. I was taken on to a ward, but doctors ran many tests and couldn’t determine what I had. They also told me that the aches and pains in my legs, left from the swine flu, were a mystery. They had no clue why I still had them. I was put on several courses of antibiotics for my ‘very odd strain of flu’, which did nothing but mess up my gut health. Every day they came up with another diagnosis; glandular fever, yellow fever (even though I’d never been outside of the UK ever in my life!), Norovirus.. they couldn’t make up their minds, especially as when they then tested, each test showed I didn’t have it and I wasn’t responding to any medication at all. They couldn’t even get my fever to come down. (As a side note, paracetamol has NEVER worked on me. I’d complain as a kid that it didn’t help when I was ill and it never has worked. This was proven in the hospital when it wouldn’t bring my fever down). 

So, I developed Pneumonia. I remember the night it hit, perfectly. My partner had just left after visiting me and saying that I seemed to be getting better from this ‘mystery flu’, so we assumed I’d be able to leave the hospital soon. He’d been gone half an hour and I got out of bed to go to the toilet. Upon trying to walk back from the toilet, I struggled. I really struggled. I couldn’t breathe and I literally dragged myself back to the bed, where I pressed the button for a nurse. I was told to stop being over dramatic (again!) and left alone all night, thinking I was dying. By the morning they realised I really was bad, as I couldn’t breathe properly on my own, and I was rushed to intensive care, put on many drips, life support equipment, breathing support etc. and told I had pneumonia. I spent a while in there. I honestly don’t remember much at all, but I did spend my eighteenth birthday in there, unfortunately.

I came home after a few weeks in hospital in total, and it took me a while to get back to full strength. I had physio-type sessions to teach me how to walk properly again, and to build up my muscle strength and stamina. It was hell. Just as I was feeling better, physically, now eighteen years old, my hair started falling out, and about 80% was gone by the time I was diagnosed with anemia and put on iron tablets. I was also told I had a condition called telium effluvium, which basically occurred because the severe illness I was going through at the time caused a drastic shock to the growing follicles, so much so that they went into a resting state, resulting in an increase in hair shedding and thinning of hair on the scalp. After a few months of being on iron tablets, my hair started to grow back, but I was forever sickly and catching anything going round. It became a joke that I was always unwell. I came off the antidepressants at this time as the negative situation with my family was removed from my life so I was able to cope better mentally and emotionally. All of these things: the two bouts of flu, mental health difficulties and extreme stress, pneumonia and anemia, all happened within a year or two. It was a huge toll on my body.

However,  going from eighteen to nineteen, my anxiety disorder remained, interfering with certain jobs, until I settled in to one. It would flare up now and then due to certain situations, often around change, as I found I just could not handle it. My counsellor put this down to the big event that happened when I was seventeen, which led to a huge change in my life. She said I therefore associated change with me becoming very unwell mentally, emotionally and physically, so I hated it. I suspect my adrenals were constantly being battered by this on-going stress of abnormal anxiety, which we know can trigger hypothyroidism. 

I was also put on the contraceptive pill (combined) at sixteen years old, for abnormally heavy periods, which I recently read in Dr Kharrazian’s book can lead to hypothyroidism due to excessive oestrogen. Since finding out I have oestrogen dominance, I do wonder how long I’ve had this for and if it’s in anyway contributed to my development of hypothyroidism.

From nineteen on wards, even though I didn’t have any further stays in hospital or flu experiences, my ‘random’ symptoms carried on to grow, with recurring depressive bouts, anxiety, aches, pains, migraines, fatigue, acid reflux, dipping iron levels etc. right up until I was twenty-one, when I was eventually diagnosed with hypothyroidism. I hadn’t been tested for it before, so I have no idea how long I’d ‘technically’ been hypothyroid for, but the symptoms had started at sixteen with those achey legs and I was eventually found to have it five years later.

From all of this, I can see that adrenal stress (from the emotional, physical and mental stress experienced), courses of antibiotics (causing leaky gut and leading to candida), the swine flu, other flu and pneumonia, the contraceptive pill, antidepressants, anaemia etc. that I experienced, have likely all culminated to trigger my Hashimoto’s and thus, hypothyroidism. Having the gene ready to be triggered, and hammering these multiple triggers in such a short space of time (just a few years), was bound to cause it. I have also had a scalloped tongue since being about sixteen years old (that’s the earliest I remember having it, I also have photos), which I know is also a sign of excess toxicities in the body, which cause hypothyroidism.

So I’m sure it began around sixteen. I’m sure it was a matter of time, and whereas my mother appeared to trigger it in her late thirties after having her last child, I’ve developed it much earlier.

You can read this post to try and figure out what might have triggered your hypothyroidism.

Now to go and read some more, and see if knowing my causes/triggers will help me keep it under control..

You can click on the hyperlinks in the above post to learn more and see references to information given.

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Written by Rachel, The Invisible Hypothyroidism

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Rachel Hill, Thyroid Patient Advocate, blogger and author, has Six 2018 WEGO Health Award Nominations. She is a highly ranked writer appearing in the Top Hypothyroidism Websites and Top Thyroid Websites and has worked with The National Academy of Hypothyroidism, The BBC, The Mighty, Yahoo, MSN, Thyroid Refresh and ThyroidChange, to name just a few. She is well-recognised as a useful contributor to the thyroid community and also contributed the foreword to Emily Kyle’s The 30-Minute Thyroid Cookbook.