October 31, 2012 by kittynh
“My Friend Hashimoto” is not the name of the newest film from Hayao Miyazaki. It is the name of an immune system problem, Hashimoto’s disease, a disease I now know I have.
You might wonder why the diagnosis of a thyroid disease would be a good topic for a skeptic blog, but critical thinking is important to remember all the time, not just when dealing with UFOs and Bigfoot. When it comes to your personal health, it’s important not only to be skeptical of alternative medicine, it’s also important to be questioning and well informed about mainstream medicine.
Doctors sometimes say diagnosis is both a science and an art. The ability to piece together all the clues and come up with a diagnosis needs to be a team effort. That team is made up of doctors, your own personal physician who knows you well and specialists, and the patient and family.
Simply accepting a diagnosis from a doctor, even if that doctor is not a homeopath or chiropractor, is wrong if you are uncomfortable with that diagnosis. Sometimes you will find your doctor was right, but most doctors like input from patients. Even if that input is, “This just doesn’t seem right.”
If it were not for my good skeptic friends, I would still be watching my hair fall out, crying at cat food commercials and wondering where those extra 10 pounds came from.
I have been having some peculiar symptoms over the past few years. Hair loss, weight gain, dry skin, and slight depression. My family doctor, who has been my physician for the past 20 years, was concerned. She tested me for “everything” and assured me she thought my thyroid was “out of whack”. She would change her mind when my thyroid test would not concur with her diagnosis. When my thyroid tests came back “within normal range” time after time she was stumped.
She felt perhaps I was just showing the effects of reaching my 50’s, and asked if I were under a lot of stress. I just assumed she was right, and tried some yoga and more exercise. My hair still fell out, my skin flaked, my weight went up and I cried during cat food commercials as those cats were “just so cute!”
It was during a cruise with the College of Curiousity, when I enjoyed a conversation with a young medical student named Jason Epstein, that I got the skeptic viewpoint I needed. I’ve know Jason for years, through online chats and real life meetings at skeptic events. Jason and I chatted, and he was kind enough to listen to my symptoms and frustrations. Jason listened carefully, and mentioned one of his teachers at school had told the medical students “Sometimes you need to treat the symptoms, not the test.” He pushed me to talk to my doctor again and to be firm about finding a diagnosis for my continuing and worsening symptoms.
I went to my doctor again. She’s not only my doctor, she’s also my friend, which made it very hard to challenge her diagnosis of stress and age. It was also hard for me to question the tests, that backed up her diagnosis. I believe in modern science and medicine, I usually trust medical testing. It was very uncomfortable for me to tell her “I think I need to see a specialist.”
I didn’t even know what kind of specialist I needed, but the symptoms all said to me I had a thyroid problem of some sort. It’s easy with all the online medical web sites to plug in symptoms and diagnose yourself. Too easy my doctor thinks! She really hates when her patients play Dr.Google. Still, our conversation was cordial and she was supportive of helping me schedule an early appointment with an endocrinologist.
The endocrinologist wanted me to get anther type of blood test before I came to see her. This one tested not just how well your thyroid was working, but also if your thyroid was putting out antibodies. In other words, was my thyroid under attack.
After 2 years of back and forth with my personal doctor, it was refreshing when it took the endocrinologist just 10 minutes to look up at me and say, “Hashimoto”. I wasn’t sure if she was sneezing or telling me a diagnosis. I suppressed the urge to say “gesundheit”.
She then explained that while my thyroid was on the “low end” of normal, it was struggling. When she touched my thyroid while doing a quick ultrasound in her office, it was actually very painful. My thyroid was battling an attack by my immune system, and my thyroid was not happy.
I had very mild symptoms I was told, as my thyroid had been doing a fairly good job so far. Hair falling out, mild emotional issues and slight weight gain were just the tip of what misery Hashimoto disease can cause. I was lucky, but even so, it was a fight my thyroid was going to lose. There is no cure for Hashimoto, but there is good treatment. For the rest of my life I will be on thyroid medication and need blood tests to monitor that treatment.
My hair is still falling out. My scale is still laughing at me. Cat food commercials still make me cry. It will take at least a few weeks until I feel the effect of the replacement treatment. It can take months to find the exact dose I need to fully treat my symptoms.
The support of my skeptic friend, Jason, and also my sitting down at my computer and researching, ended with a diagnosis that will make my life much better. I’ll still have the aches and pains of aging. I’ll still have my bad back. But I will also not experience the more extreme symptoms of Hashimoto disease. Catching it “early” while the thyroid was still functioning fairly well, is actually fairly rare.
It’s a disease that defies detection, but in my case the encouragement of a skeptic medical student, the internet, and my being skeptical of test results resulted in a good outcome. Even modern mainstream medical science needs a skeptic challenge ever now and again.
Though it is fun to say to friends “I have Hashimoto!” and have them reply “God bless you!”