Crohn’s Disease Plus Thyroid Disease Can Make Life Confusing

As someone who’s lived with Crohn’s disease for more than two decades, I thought I had enough to deal with. Managing the intricacies of Crohn’s disease can be a full-time job by itself. So, during a very challenging Crohn’s flare, it should come as no surprise, life threw me a curveball — autoimmune thyroid disease.

Dealing with comorbidities of Crohn's disease

I was several months into the Crohn’s flare that took my body out of commission. Getting hit left and right with extraintestinal manifestations like scleritis and arthritis became the norm. At the time, I didn’t know that comorbidities were a thing and how hard they would impact my life.

Comorbid conditions (aka co-conditions) and extraintestinal manifestations (EIMs) are not one and the same. It can get confusing, especially if you’re new to the IBD game. To make things even more confusing for IBD novices, IBD is not an autoimmune disease.

What?!

Bear with me.

Are Crohn's and UC autoimmune?

Having an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis means you have an overactive immune system. IBD is an immune-mediated condition. It is not an autoimmune disease, although often mislabeled as such.

Conditions like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are auto-immune diseases, which have antibodies that create an inflammatory attack. I’ve seen even the best of the best of health and science reporters make the mistake.

Since Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis do not have antibodies, they don’t live within the same category as lupus and RA.

Now that the mini science lesson is out of the way, let’s get back to thyroid disease.

Concerning symptoms with Crohn's and hypothyroid

I was knee-deep in the great Crohn’s flare of 2012, and the usual symptoms I had always known gained friends. Suddenly, I was feeling faint randomly and was experiencing extremely dry skin, and was always cold. As the heart palpitations I experienced from time-to-time began to increase, I blamed Crohn’s. That was until I passed out at work mid-sentence. Something wasn't right.

Thankfully my primary care physician brought me in that same afternoon as the fainting spell and heart palpitations. She had a hunch and ran a series of tests to confirm. The results and diagnosis confirmation came quickly. Bloodwork showed an extremely high number of antibodies were attacking my thyroid. They were from Hashimoto’s. The antibodies were damaging the thyroid to the point that it was under-functioning and made me hypothyroid.

You may be wondering why I’m telling you this since this is a website dedicated to Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis stories.

Well, simply put, it’s all relative!

Also, some of the symptoms that come with a co-condition like Hashimoto’s, can make it very confusing for an IBD patient to know which condition is causing which symptom.

Symptoms of Hashimoto’s and generalized hypothyroidism

For example, Hashimoto’s and generalized hypothyroidism are known to cause fatigue, brain fog, chills, and apathy. Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis patients can experience the same. For the average Hashimoto’s patient, constipation can also occur.

I am not the average Hashimoto's patient, though. This is where things get a little confusing.

My Hashimoto’s flare symptoms more closely mimic a Crohn’s disease flare; constipation is nowhere in sight for me. Symptoms like frequency, insomnia, fatigue, and increased brain fog make it confusing to know what is causing what.

So, one thing I highly recommend is keeping a symptom journal. Get familiar with all of your symptoms and try to spot trends. A symptom journal is really helpful for those who are trying to figure out what symptoms may belong to which condition.

Crohn’s disease plus thyroid disease can make life confusing but please know you are not alone. Are you struggling with thyroid disease and Crohn's or ulcerative colitis? Let's chat!

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