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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

"It's all in your head!"

Last night I was talking with friends about the controversial diagnosis of "mass hysteria" going on at a local high school. It's been all over the news, and even though I don't watch or read our local news, I've read strange reports online about the students who are exhibiting Tourette's-like symptoms.

Of course, one woman was quick to say she basically thought they were all making it up. I don't know where she got her information from, but she alluded that of the ones who stayed out of the spotlight and sought treatment, they recovered. The ones who were on the news and in the media, though, didn't. And apparently the alleged victims did not all receive Gardasil injections, and are not all girls (it includes one boy and an adult female, supposedly).

One article, though, contradicts what this woman is saying: officials do not believe the students involved are making up their symptoms. However, the neurologist this lady apparently spoke to does. What does that tell you?

Sometimes when it comes to finding
out what's wrong with you,
you have to think outside the box. 
If all those details are so skewed, it makes me continue to lose faith in the media. I mean, do they ever get the story right? And if the officials involved think the students are telling the truth, it also makes me lose more faith in the doctors. It seems like whenever they can't find the solution to something, they blame the patient: "It's all in your head."

The medical field's love of medicating doesn't help. As I've found in my research on thyroid diseases, and in my own personal experience, many people get a cocktail of drugs for each symptom - fatigue, depression, memory loss, etc. - and their real problem gets untreated and ignored. Could this be the case at this school? Who really knows.

I've been going through my own struggles lately that make me sympathize with these students. Long story short, since November I've been having weird feelings - vague at times, hard to describe but definitely there - in my head that I can't explain. Not quite a headache, but a pressure sensation that comes and goes. I know in the end probably the only thing to do is get an MRI, but I dread asking a neurologist about this: because he will likely tell me I'm nuts. I wonder, "Brain tumor? Middle ear? What the heck?" Considering I have Hashimoto's Disease, it could be linked to that: a "rare" neurological condition called Hashimoto's encephalopathy, which in some cases can actually mimic Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. In many people with it, they were all misdiagnosed with Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and even a variant of Mad Cow Disease (Crutzfeld-Jacob Disease), when really they all had Hashimoto's encephalopathy, which usually responds well to steroid treatment.

I think of people who are on tons of medications and yet still doing badly. One woman in particular comes to mind - a woman from my church who was morbidly obese and in very poor health. Looking back I bet a lot of her weight was contributed to fluid retention, and doctors eventually didn't know what was wrong with her - and she died.

The thing that further complicates a disease like this is that many of those symptoms - swelling, memory loss, tremors, weight gain, high cholesterol, and diabetes - can all be complications of long-term, untreated hypothyroidism. Not only that, but they strongly suspect that many people with suspected Hashimoto's encephalopathy are actually undiagnosed because doctors don't know how to treat it - and often ignore Hashimoto's Disease. Despite access to several blood tests, MRI technology and new research that suggests not only could Hashi's patients benefit from treatment, but that a simple TSH will not adequately diagnose them - doctors continue to ignore the evidence and wait for these people to slowly wither on the vine, which is disgusting. In the age of internet diagnostics (which many doctors heavily criticize and roll their eyes at), it's imperative for people to find answers and support from others, which is vital - while it's a double-edged sword of anxiety wondering whether you're actually right or not, it might be more information than your doctor is willing to give you.

It's easy to lose faith in a system that, at least in this case, often sticks to outdated, false logic in diagnosing, doesn't always listen to the patient, and treats the patient like they're working for you, instead of the other way around. The relationship between the pharmaceutical industry, your doctor and your insurance company is a complex hamster wheel that's often driven by one thing: money. "Big Pharma" airs their commercials on television and in magazines, convincing you that whatever you have is worthy of being treated. Maybe it is, maybe not. You visit your doctor to find out more. Or, you really do have something - but your doctor doesn't know how to treat it except to push more pills, which are conveniently provided by the drug manufacturer. Your insurance company might decide they want you to use something different, cheaper, perhaps - that might not have worked for you in the past, but because they're footing the bill they will insist you take it even though you and your doctor want to use something else. Or your doctor might suggest a new, better, faster (and more expensive) pill that does the same thing as the old, cheap one - simply because a drug rep told them it's the latest, greatest way to treat XYZ Disease.

They don't want you to know - or don't know themselves - that untreated conditions like thyroid diseases, for one, can cause the same symptoms they're treating ineffectively. Or that vitamin and mineral deficiencies can also mimic some of the symptoms you're having, for a fraction of the cost. If you knew all that, and approached it with the skepticism that you probably should, then your medicine cabinet wouldn't look like a mini pharmacy, and you wouldn't be filling their pockets nearly as full.

Food for thought:
Some of the most prescribed medications for 2011 include statins and cholesterol-lowering drugs. It's no secret that untreated (or under treated) hypothyroidism can cause high cholesterol, even among patients who follow a good diet and get reasonable exercise.

Other commonly prescribed drugs include antihypertensives, diabetic medications, antidepressants, migraine medications, and drugs to treat memory loss. Not coincidentally, hypothyroidism can lead to diabetes and high blood pressure, and among the symptoms are poor cognitive function ("brain fog"), migraines and headaches, and depression.

Low vitamin levels can also be a culprit. With vitamin and mineral enriched foods so readily available, you'd think that these deficiencies  wouldn't be as common as they are. However, a number of factors - heavy alcohol use, poor diet and digestive disorders can affect how you absorb nutrients. It's also been speculated that use of chemicals and preservatives in our food can block nutrient absorption (or cause a number of health problems, at the very least) despite all the "good stuff" they add to it to make us healthier. (Said tongue in cheek, of course)

While not absolute, I've listed symptoms in the table that tend to be commonly treated with prescription drugs (which can include anxiety meds, antidepressants, anticonvulsants, pain relievers and NSAIDs, birth control pills, and GI drugs). And while these are common deficiencies - especially among women - I've found in my experience that you can't always expect your doctor to automatically test you for it.

More reading:
How to eat right to overcome vitamin deficiencies 
Are vitamin D deficiency and hypothyroidism related?
Have you tested your B12? It's a deficiency thyroid patients need to catch. 


The Deranged Housewife said...

This post was written February 10, but backdated so it would appear among January's thyroid awareness posts.