How to Get a Correct Thyroid Diagnosis


Katie: Welcome Izabella, thanks so much for being here.

Izabella: Hey Katie, thanks so much for having me. I’m so glad to be here with you.

Katie: I’m so excited because you’re obviously super qualified in thyroid health, but also
I consider you a friend. I know when we first met we stayed up really late one
night talking about thyroid health and just health in general and blogging and so
many different things, and kind of got to know each other but the part that kind of
struck me when we first met was your own story, which I think just was amazing.
Hearing your own journey with thyroid health and all the things you discovered
yourself. So for any listeners who maybe aren’t familiar with you or who haven’t
read your blog or heard your story, can you kind of walk through your own
journey with thyroid disease and what you learned?

Izabella: Yeah, absolutely and I just had so much fun hanging out and connecting with you
as well-just want to throw that in there-but I basically-my thyroid symptoms
probably started some time in my Freshman year in college. I used to be this
bright-eyed and busy-tailed kid, and I always had a ton of energy. I was always playing sports and working out and studying and working after school and doing
all kinds of fun things in high school and then during my Freshman year in
college I ended up with Mono which is a condition caused by the Epstein-Barr
virus and after that I just never fully recovered.

I remember I was just so exhausted all the time that one day I actually slept
through a final exam during my first year in undergrad. It was a chemistry final
exam which was very very important for me to get make sure I got a really good
grade in that so I could get into pharmacy school and, unfortunately, I slept
through that exam and luckily the professor let me come in late and re-take it and
whatnot, but it was just very very bizarre because I went from this very highly
energetic person to somebody that just needed to sleep maybe 12 to 14 hours
each night and as time went on, eventually it was discovered that I had EpsteinBarr virus but I had been recovering from it. I got a little bit better but I never quite
recovered my previous amount of energy and so I would go to doctors every year
and ask for a physical an say “I’m really really tired all the time. I have to sleep a
lot.” And they’d check me for anemia. They’d check my thyroid. They check all of
these things and they’d just say everything was normal.

So fast-forward to when I actually graduated from pharmacy school and I kind of
figured out that not all doctors were created equally and I learned that maybe
there were some doctors that were going to be a bit more comprehensive and I
started again kind of asking questions about my health. At that point my
symptoms had also progressed so not only was I tired and sleeping for 12 hours
each night but I also had acid reflux, irritable bowel syndrome, I had hair loss, I
had joint pain in both arms. I was diagnosed with bilateral carpal tunnel which
made it really tough for me to work because a lot of the things I had to do were
on a computer and I also had really like debilitating anxiety. Like I started to have
panic attacks, which I never used to have. You know me, I’m pretty laid back and
just very mellow and that was something brand new to me.

So my husband would go out running and he’d tell me that he’d be back and if he
wasn’t back in 15 minutes I’d start pretty much calling around and making sure
he was okay or wondering if he left me for another woman or something crazy
must’ve happened because why was he gone for so long? I just had these very
unrealistic intrusive thoughts that I never had before. I had all these symptoms
that I never had before and I was still in my mid-20’s at the time before-and just
felt like my whole body was falling apart.

At that point eventually I found a doctor that was willing to do some
comprehensive testing and I was found to have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and so at
first I was relieved that I had Hashimoto’s which an auto-immune thyroid
condition, because I thought “Finally, I can start taking medications.” You know,
I’m a pharmacist by training so I knew there were medications one could take to
get that balanced but a part of me was also kind of scared because I thought
“Okay, well I’m only in my 20’s so why do I have an autoimmune condition? And
why did I develop this condition that happens later on in life generally?”

And so that was kind of how I got on my journey of trying to figure out if there
were any things that I had done to potentially trigger my condition, if there was
anything I could do to reverse my condition or prevent the progression of the
condition and that’s kind of how I became a Hashimoto’s expert/human guinea
pig was just through looking at different research and trying out different things
on myself in an effort to get myself better with the condition.

Katie: Yeah, your story sounds so much like my own. Especially, I feel like that moment
of like you know something’s wrong but the tests come back normal and you go
to the doctor and they say you’re fine or they tell you it’s all in your head and I
think a lot of people have had that experience and it’s so frustrating because
when you know something is not right in your own body but you can’t find
answers, that’s a really really frustrating place to be.

So, obviously, fast-forward through your journey. You obviously had discovered
some things that helped you and now you’ve actually written a book about it,
which I highly recommend, it’s a really comprehensive book. But I’d like to delve
into some of those specifics that you talk about in the book and that, actually,
some of my readers have questions that they wanted to get you to help them find
answers for. So, one question that came up a lot and that you do talk about on
your blog, I think, and also in your book is actually getting to that point of getting
a correct diagnosis. So can you talk about maybe if someone has some of those
same symptoms that you did or that I did and they suspect there’s a problem,
how do you go about starting to find answers or get a diagnosis for that?

Izabella: Yeah, absolutely, and Katie should we talk about some of the symptoms you
had? Because everybody can kind of present a little bit differently.

Katie: Yeah, absolutely. So you mentioned yours being triggered by a virus and I feel
like mine was triggered probably more by stress and I had several pretty intense
life issues that happened in a short span of time and I wasn’t sleeping and at that
point in my life, in college, definitely wasn’t eating very healthy either. And then I
think, when I got pregnant with my first child after college, that kind of was the
straw that broke the camel’s back. And I think you hear about that a lot with like
the hormonal aspect and, obviously with the endocrine system, all hormones are
intertwined and so I think that was part of it for me.

But the symptoms I struggled with were, kind of some of the common thyroid
symptoms of feeling cold all of the time, and I had some hair loss especially in
my eyebrows in the beginning and my nails were very brittle, and just having
trouble losing weight after baby. Which, again, that’s one of those things that
doctors say “Well that’s pretty normal. Everyone has that, it’s nothing to worry
about.” And digestive disturbances, not as severe as what I know you had, but
just I felt like my digestion wasn’t working correctly and I would have to take stuff
to feel like to get things moving but then sometimes it would just be too much and
so I just felt like I had this whole array of symptoms that doctors kept telling me
were normal.

And it actually took me going through 8 doctors before I found one-actually who
we both know, Dr. Christianson-who was able to even just look at me before he
did blood tests and we was able to pretty much guess what it was and then blood
tests confirmed it. But it was so frustrating that period because I knew something
was wrong and I kept telling them something was wrong and they kept telling me
“No, your normals are okay, they’re a little low but they’re pretty normal. Nothing
to worry about, we’ll just test you again in a couple years.” So I know that
frustration all too well.

Izabella: Absolutely, so a lot of times women will struggle with these symptoms for 5 years,
10 years, before they actually get diagnosed and we both know and love Dr.
Christianson. I actually lived-I lived like 2 or 3 miles away from his clinic in
Scottsdale, Arizona when I was starting to having thyroid symptoms and
unfortunately I didn’t know him then, otherwise I could have been diagnosed
much much sooner but when doctors first look at thyroid function in a person,
when they first start to check thyroid function, they’re going to run a screening
test.

That test is known as the TSH or the thyroid stimulating hormone test and this
test is really really great for picking up really advanced cases of hypothyroidism
or even advanced cases of Hashimoto’s when the thyroid is no longer working,
that TSH number is going to be elevated, indicating there is very low amounts of
thyroid hormone in the body. But that test is not ideal for probably people within
the first 5 to 10 years of Hashimoto’s because the test is-it can fluctuate so in the
early stages of Hashimoto’s, you may have a swing from having that number
being a little bit too high, to a little bit too low, to then normal and this can happen
just from a day-to-day basis where a person will have to be tested one day and
there TSH will be normal. The next day, like you, the doctor will say “Oh, it’s a
little bit off but it’s nothing to worry about.”

And the other thing too is, when the scientists first determined the reference
ranges for that test, they ended up pulling a bunch of people’s blood and this
blood, unfortunately, had people in there who actually had thyroid disease. So
the reference range was pretty lax for that pool of blood where they were saying
that numbers of TSH as high as 8 or even 10 were considered normal. Whereas
most women feel best with a TSH somewhere between .5 and 2 and most
healthy people without thyroid disease that are in their 20’s and 30’s should have
a TSH somewhere around 1.

So, you know, like you, at one point I had a TSH of 4.5 and I was sleeping for 12
hours a night, losing my hair, sleeping under 2 blankets in Southern California,
and my doctor told me that was normal. So 2 big problems with that test is often
times it’s going to be-reference range may not be strict enough depending on
what lab your doctor is using. So anything above a 2.5 would be a red flag. I
always tell people to get a copy of their own test results. And the other issue is in
the early stages of Hashimoto’s that TSH might actually look normal but you
might still have a lot of the symptoms, especially some of the mood symptoms,
fatigue, as well as problems with losing weight.

So the other tests I recommend are going to be thyroid peroxidase antibodies
and these antibodies basically mean that your immune system has begun to
recognize the thyroid gland as a foreign invader, and is launching an immune
attack on the thyroid gland. The 2 antibodies in Hashimoto’s are thyroglobulin
antibodies as well as thyroid peroxidase antibodies and different studies will say
that about 80 to 90% of people with Hashimoto’s will have them elevated, and a
lot of times that is going to be the test that is going to figure out whether or not
you have Hashimoto’s. These antibodies can be elevated for up to a decade
before you see a change in TSH.

Some people, they may have something called , so they may not have any
thyroid antibodies but they might have the changes consistent with Hashimoto’s
on their thyroid gland and the way to test for that is actually with a thyroid
Ultrasound. So, I know I’ve seen women who have said that they didn’t think they
had thyroid problems, they didn’t think they had Hashimoto’s, and once they got
some more comprehensive testing they were able to uncover that really they did
have the condition.

Katie: Yeah and that’s, I think, what was so frustrating for me in my own journey is
because most doctors are just trained, like you said, that they test TSH or if you
have one who’s maybe read some more, they’ll test T3 or T4 or another variant
but a lot of them don’t test the antibodies unless they see something else that’s a
problem. So actually, in researching it, had read about how that test can be a lot
more accurate for different types of thyroid Disease and had asked one of the
doctors for it and he said “Well, unless your TSH is elevated there’s no reason to
test for that.” And it’s frustrating looking back because, knowing like what you just
said, and what I’ve read in your book, that’s actually not true at all.

And I remember being so frustrated and thinking “So, really, I just have to sit here
and get worse and wait ’til my levels get to a bad enough place that they will
show up on the regular test before a doctor’s going to take me seriously.” That
was really frustrating but that’s good to know for anyone listening that the
antibody test can show it at an earlier stage. What about women though that
have had all these tests and are still-they have all these symptoms but maybe
the tests are still looking normal. Is it, at that point, an issue of the ranges or can
someone have normal levels and still have the symptoms?

Izabella: Right, so, with the TSH that can be normal and the person may still have
symptoms if they have thyroid antibodies so that’s one option. And then the
thyroid Antibodies can actually come out normal and the person may still have
Hashimoto’s based on changes that are occurring in their thyroid Gland. So,
Hashimoto’s is kind of one of those things that-what is is basically white blood
cell infiltration in the thyroid glands. So when immune cells start taking up
residence in the thyroid Gland, they’re not normally supposed to be there, that
means that the thyroid Gland is under immune system attack and many times
you’ll be able to find that through antibody tests or through thyroid ultrasounds
but sometimes a person may come out normal on all those things but when you
do-it’s called a fine needle aspiration-where you put a little needle in somebody’s
thyroid gland and take out some cells and look under them in a microscope, that
will show changes consistent with Hashimoto’s.

So definitely there’s different types of diagnostic methods that can be explored.
Obviously sticking a little needle into your thyroid gland is not the least invasive
so a much less invasive method would be to do a blood test or an ultrasound.
And so some doctors will diagnose a person based on symptoms but there may
be other things that look like thyroid disease such as adrenal dysfunction or even
some of the chronic infections like Lyme. People may present with thyroid
symptoms when they actually have something else too.

Katie: Yeah, that’s a really good point and that was really interesting to me because Dr.
Christianson did order an ultrasound when I first started working with him and it
turned out that there nodules on my thyroid and I was actually really surprised
because the blood tests had always been normal even though I knew I was
having symptoms. I didn’t realize that there could already be nodules and
changes in my thyroid at that point and thankfully those have now started to
reverse through the treatment I’ve been doing with him but I was really-yeah I
was really shocked to find that. So, if someone maybe is in the place where I
was, and you were, for that time of trying to find a doctor who understands
thyroid disease and can test them correctly, what would maybe be some
interview questions someone would ask a doctor to determine if they’re going to
understand enough to be able to test correctly?

Izabella: Those are great questions. So asking, calling the doctor’s office and asking them
if they test for thyroid antibodies, what kind of thyroid medications they prescribe,
those are 2 really good questions that will give you some insight into how the
doctor-what comfort level they have with the thyroid because unfortunately
there’s specific guidelines for thyroid that I learned about in pharmacy school that
are just very very basic that talk about just using 1 type of medication and 1 type
of test. But there’s so much more beyond that and doctors like Dr. Christianson
who specialize in this have a whole arsenal of tools to look at from different
medications to use for people with thyroid disorders to looking at different lab
testing as well as looking at different root causes.

Another thing I like to ask about is looking at whether or not the doctor has a root
cause approach. So, I definitely recommend for diagnosis you can see pretty
much any type of doctor that is willing to do the advanced testing but you also
want to work with somebody who’s trained in functional medicine to start looking
at some of the root causes of the thyroid conditions and one trick, it’s an old
pharmacist trick, is basically to work with your compounding pharmacy, you know
a lot of people have local ones in their area, and talk to the pharmacy staff there
or pharmacists and ask them which are the best doctors for thyroid that they’re
aware of because usually those doctors will be familiar with a variety of different
treatment options including compounded thyroid medications.

Katie: That’s an excellent point too and, ironically, the next guest I’m going to have on
the podcast for next month is a local pharmacist where I live, that’s a big fan of
yours, and she’s found a doctor now that she’s kept giving information to and he’s
gone to conferences and they’ve both learned a lot more in-depth about
hormones and especially thyroid and so she’s been an excellent resource for a
lot of people here and that’s a great point because I don’t think everyone thinks to
go to a pharmacist first. But sometimes they can point you in the right direction.
Izabella: Absolutely, sounds like a really great guest.

Katie: Yeah, I’m excited for her, so we’ve kind of mentioned in passing some of the
different kinds of thyroid disease but can we go through and define those for
people who may be trying to figure out what they might have or what their
symptoms would look like for different-so obviously there’s hypothyroid,
hyperthyroid, and Hashimoto’s which we’ve mentioned all 3 of those. Can you
kind of walk us through the differences?

Izabella: Yeah, absolutely, so basically hypothyroid is a state of not having enough thyroid
hormone. This is also known as an under active thyroid where the person does
not produce enough thyroid hormones and some of the common symptoms of
that are going to be hair loss, fatigue, cold intolerance, eyebrow loss, difficulty
losing weight, a lot of times depression, fatigue, that’s kind of a big one for that
and that is going to be kind of like an advanced form of Hashimoto’s. Worldwide
hypothyroidism, the primary cause of it is going to be iodine deficiency. So iodine
is a nutrient that’s required for the production of thyroid hormones and
unfortunately, this is not longer the case in the rest of the world, or in the
westernized world so in the westernized world iodine deficiency is no longer the
primary cause of hypothyroidism because we started adding iodine to the salt
supply with all of the public health measures. Now in the western world,
Hashimoto’s is actually the primary cause of hypothyroidism.

So Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune condition that results in the breakdown of
thyroid tissue to the point where the person can no longer produce thyroid
hormone. And that’s going to be responsible for anywhere form 90 to 97% of
cases of hypothyroidism or a sluggish thyroid in the western world.

With hyperthyroidism, this a condition that is also known as an overactive thyroid
where you have too much thyroid hormone being produced or supplied to the
body and some of the symptoms that are commonly reported with that are going
to be palpitations, excess sweating, excess anxiety, potentially tremors, excess
weight gain, and I kind of like to think of it as a speeding up process where the
person often times they’re going to feel irritable, agitated, they’re not going to be
able to sleep. They’re going to be sweating and they kind of feel like they’re on
amphetamines or something like that. And it can be very very distressful feeling.
You also can have hair loss. You’re definitely going to have either fatigue or just
kind of agitation and some people may have a protrusion of the eyes. So if you’ve
ever seen a person whose eyes seem to protrude a little bit more, that can be
due to hyperthyroidism.

The primary cause of that is Graves disease. So this is also an autoimmune
condition that happens to attack a different part of the thyroid gland and what it
basically happens is the thyroid is no longer able to regulate it’s thyroid hormone
production. So that’s going to be the primary cause. Other types of causes may
be due to excess thyroid medications and those are pretty much most of the
thyroid conditions that we deal with. I would say majority of people are going to
present with hypothyroidism and that is caused by Hashimoto’s.

Katie: Got you, so you say in the early stages of Hashimoto’s, where even I’ve seen it in
some other stages, you can kind of fluctuate between hyper and hypo, is that
right?

Izabella: Yeah, absolutely, so this is known as Hashitoxicosis where in the initial stages
what’s happening is a person’s immune system will be breaking down thyroid
tissue and thyroid hormone will get rushed into the bloodstream causing swings
of thyroid hormone going up and going down. So people might have transient
hyperthyroidism and then the hormones get cleared out of the circulation and
they’ll have symptoms of hypothyroidism and unfortunately this can often get
misdiagnosed as an anxiety disorder.

In my case I had, you know, the panic attacks. Some people have been
misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder and I’ve, unfortunately, even seen some
people who were misdiagnosed with psychotic disorders and hospitalized in the
early stages of Hashimoto’s because of this transient hyperthyroidism followed by
hypothyroidism. It just definitely feels-the person can definitely feel like they’re on
a roller coaster and feel like they’re losing their mind.

Katie: Yeah, wow. So you mentioned that, while it didn’t use to be the case,
Hashimoto’s is currently the largest form of thyroid disease that we have in the
western world. Why do you think we’re seeing a rise in Hashimoto’s whereas we
used to see more just hypothyroidism?

Izabella: So that’s a really great question and one of the reasons is because when public
health officials realized that a lot of people were hypothyroid due to iodine
deficiency, they began a salt iodonization program where they began to add
iodine to the salt supplies in various countries. When the iodine was added to the
salt supply, most people became iodine sufficient and thus people were no longer
having these iodine deficiency hypothyroidism. So this is kind of the good part
about it but what we, unfortunately, learned kind of the hard way, is that iodine
seems to also be an environmental trigger for Hashimoto’s. So it’s a Goldilocks
nutrient, it’s got a narrow therapeutic index which means that dosages of it too
low are going to be problematic for the thyroid leading to iodine deficiency
hypothyroid and then dosages that are going to be too high are going to be
problematic for the thyroid potentially leading to autoimmune thyroid disease.

The mechanism behind that is thought to be basically the iodine needs to be
processed by the thyroid gland and whenever it’s processed there’s a chemical
reaction that takes place that results in hydrogen peroxide production. The
hydrogen peroxide-you know if you’ve ever poured it on a wound or poured on
anywhere, you’ll see how it kind of fizzes up and kind of starts to take up space.
Well on wounds it’s not as big of a deal but when you release that inside of a
thyroid gland it doesn’t really have anywhere to spread and go so the hydrogen
peroxide can actually cause tissue damage.

It’s known as a reactive oxygen species and basically when you have too much
iodine conversion you end up with all of this excess hydrogen peroxide which can
damage the thyroid gland and then cause immune cells to come into the thyroid
gland to try to repair the damage and at some point-we’re not quite sure how this
happens-but at some point the immune system gets confused and it’s in the
thyroid, the immune cells are in the thyroid initially fixing it but eventually it starts
becoming into a pattern of the immune system actually attacking the thyroid
gland.

So that’s kind of the thought behind the mechanism and things that exacerbate
this hydrogen peroxide production are going to be selenium deficiency, which is
also another environmental trigger for Hashimoto’s. There’s a lot of different
things out there too so specifically, you know, looking at radiation or looking at
different types of toxins in our environment. They’ve definitely been implicated in
causing increased rates of thyroid damage and thyroid antibodies.

So I grew up about 7 hours away from Chernobyl, the nuclear disaster, and
potentially some of my thyroid issues started when I was 3 years old and
exposed to that nuclear disaster as children who were closer to the nuclear
fallout would have higher rates of thyroid antibodies. So I know they measured
one city that was 2 hours away and 20% of the kids had thyroid antibodies
versus another city that was in a distant part of Russia ended up having just a
small percentage of thyroid antibodies in the same kind of children group who
were seemingly genetically similar and around the same age but just further
away from the radiation and the nuclear fallout.

Katie: Wow, yeah that’s amazing and I didn’t even actually know that you had grown up
there. So that could’ve been something that kind of was an underlying issue for
you and then maybe the mono just really exacerbated it at that point in your life.

Izabella: Yeah, it’s kind of a perfect storm of events that lines up to create autoimmune
disease and a lot of times we’ll see that people will have the genetic
predisposition, then they’ll have some sort of a trigger and then another part is
going to be intestinal permeability. So somewhere along the way a person,
perhaps from the diet that they’re eating or from an infection they pickup, they
may have the intestinal permeability, and that somehow leads to immune system
dis-regulation and it’s possible that I’ve had this my whole life and that just during
college the mono actually exacerbated it.

So there’s triggers and there’s also exaggerators that can worsen the condition
and definitely the Epstein-Barr virus has been found to worsen Hashimoto’s. So
in people who already had Hashi’s and then got the Epstein-Barr virus or the
Epstein-Barr virus reactivated you’d see a higher production of that antibodies.



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