I, like many others around the world, went to see Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War over the weekend and all the while was thinking, “This is describing autoimmune disease” (yes, I’m a little obsessed with my job). Now I promise not to do a movie review or give too much away (most of this is talked about in the previews anyway), but the main idea is the Avengers (Iron Man, Captain America, War Machine, Black Widow, and others) are at war with each other, hence the name “Civil War”. You don’t know what exactly has caused this problem; all you know is there will be an all-out battle of former teammates and friends. All the while you’re thinking, “What’s gonna happen,” “Will someone die,” “Will they reconcile their differences and go back to the way things were?” Well, this had me thinking that this is exactly what happens in your body when you have an autoimmune disease.
The term “civil war” means a war between citizens of the same country. An autoimmune disease is when the very system sworn to protect you (your immune system) begins attacking healthy cells and organs. There are more than 80 types of autoimmune diseases and their symptoms can be very similar making it difficult to diagnose.
One autoimmune disease that specifically affects the thyroid gland is Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis also known as Autoimmune Thyroiditis (AT). In this condition the immune system mistakes healthy thyroid tissue as foreigners that must be destroyed. It begins attacking the thyroid leading to inflammation and a gland that is unable to function properly. The immune system uses antibodies to carry out the attack. In the case of Hashimoto’s the two antibodies, or anti-thyroid antibodies, are antithyroglobulin (ATG) and anti-thyroid peroxidase (TPO). In addition, T-lymphocytes, cells involved in the inflammation process, invade the thyroid gland causing the enlargement.
While the thyroid is suffering from this brutal attack the symptoms can alternate between those associated with hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism.
The hyperthyroid symptoms such as increased heart rate, jitteriness, profuse sweating, diarrhea, weight loss, etc., occur when thyroid hormone is released or “leaks out” of the gland causing a sudden increase of the hormone in the body.
Eventually the gland will become so damaged it will remain in a hypothyroid state. This will cause symptoms such as weight gain, slow pulse, cold hands and feet, constipation, etc. If left untreated, this can lead to serious, life-threatening conditions including,
- Severe Mental Health Issues (depression)
- Birth Defects in Offspring
- Cardiomyopathy (enlarged heart)
- Heart Failure
- And more!
While I enjoyed watching the Marvel movie about characters duking it out (definitely 5 stars), it caused me to think of the seriousness of an autoimmune disease. So the next time you go to your doctor ask them to test your thyroid antibody levels. Who knows, your body could be experiencing its own Civil War.