A Hashimoto's flare can be downright scary and frustrating. Here are some simple ways to deal with one.
If you have Hashimoto's, you know the sometimes seemingly random symptoms that creep up on you out of nowhere – the heart palpitations, the extreme exhaustion and fatigue, the cold hands and feet, inflammation in the body (that can lead to aches and pains that just won't go away), brain fog and/or memory issues, anxiety, massive blood sugar swings, sore throat, and on and on.
Even if you've been successfully managing the symptoms and have put your Hashi's in remission, you can sometimes get these flare ups that happen where you experience the symptoms for a period of time. They are really frustrating because if you've gone from feeling great to having all the symptoms come crashing back down on you, they just plain suck.
I just went through one of these Hashi's flares, and it definitely wasn't fun. Sure, it's not as bad as some other autoimmune disease flares and for that I am very thankful. However, when I had to sit around not participating in things like my Barre class or going on a short hike with my kids because I was exhausted and my heart palpitations were making me feel dizzy, I was super frustrated.
For many people, including myself, managing Hashimoto's is a mixture of diet and lifestyle. You must eat healthy – and foods that work for YOU, and you must build in relaxation and movement throughout your days.
It's like a recipe. Forget one of those things and you are on a slippery slope but you can most likely recover quickly, but continue to forget it or ignore a few of them and you wind up with a flare.
Sometimes flares end quickly, like you get a little nudge saying “c'mon now, get back on track.”
Other times though, like my last one, they can last for several days to weeks.
And if you don't take action THEN, you're looking at having issues for a long time. Possibly facing a far more difficult road to recovery or further complications because, after all, your body is at that point attacking your thyroid tissue again. No one needs that to happen and it surely doesn't lead to good things.
What to do if you are experiencing a Hashimoto's Flare
The best thing to do when you experience a flare is to take an immediate step back and look at what you are doing diet- and lifestyle-wise. Ask yourself these questions:
• been eating the foods that are best for my body?
• eating a good variety of these foods – getting a variety of nutrients in?
• giving myself adequate relaxation and “me” time?
• experienced more stress than usual? Has something happened?
• been getting enough movement in? (walking, hiking, biking, yoga, pilates, barre, jogging, swimming, etc?)
• been getting too MUCH movement in? (doing cross fit or P90X 7 days a week, or training for a marathon or Ironman without adequate recovery could be the cause, for example)
Once you have answered these questions, you can start making some changes to your life to correct these and hopefully reverse the flare quickly.
My Own Hashimoto's Flare Triggers
I've found after years of this that my triggers typically are one of the following:
• eating wheat/gluten (accidentally, since I'm very strict on not eating any)
• eating corn
• eating dairy
• not getting enough sleep
• eating too much sugar over a period of time (usually a few weeks of gradual sugar increase – and this includes honey and maple syrup)
Once I get these out of my diet and fix the lifestyle piece, things start usually improving immediately. I find personally that sticking to a fairly strict Paleo diet is where I feel my best. I'll eat some gluten-free baked goods and whatnot on vacations, but try not to go too far from Paleo because I start to feel poorly pretty quickly.
If you have NOT yet gotten your Hashimoto's under control
Now, this article is more relevant to someone who has already put their Hashimoto's in remission or usually can successfully manage it without symptoms. You may have had a brief change in that, mainly because of the actions you've taken, like starting to eat different foods, etc.
If you haven't yet gotten your Hashi's (or hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism) in check, I highly recommend working with a functional medicine practitioner or open-minded doctor to find out the root cause of your issues and to get on a recovery plan that works for your own personal situation.
Medication is NOT ENOUGH
JUST going on medicine like Synthroid or levothyroxine isn't the answer though. Please do not let a doctor tell you that!! That just helps one teeny tiny piece of the Hashimoto's puzzle. I was on levothyroxine for 8 years with a diagnosis of “hypothyroidism” where I still had symptoms and things just kept getting worse. It wasn't until I learned that I had Hashimoto's, and learned that the autoimmune disease was still attacking my thyroid – despite medication – that it all clicked.
The medications just help replace the thyroid hormone you no longer can make. But they don't stop the disease activity from happening in the background.
Let me repeat that.
The medications do not stop the disease activity from happening in the background. Your body is STILL going to attack your thyroid if you don't take measures to stop it. Disease activity = symptoms (and maybe more autoimmune diseases down the line).
How to Control Your Hashimoto's
What are these measures? Diet and lifestyle changes. Watch the free Autoimmune Disease 101 series to get more info. It's more information than I want to share in this post, but it goes over what autoimmune disease is, what causes it, how diet and lifestyle can make it worse, and how to use diet and lifestyle to make it better.
This part is worth noting here though: There is a strong connection between Hashimoto's and gluten-sensitivity, so if you have any sort of autoimmune thyroid disease, get yourself off the gluten!! Seriously. Do it.
Once I added the diet and lifestyle piece into my life I went from feeling symptoms ALL.THE.TIME. to feeling fantastic.
If You'd Already Gotten Your Hashi's Under Control
I also recommend that if you've previously managed your Hashimoto's successfully and are experiencing a flare but you haven't changed a thing (you've answered all the questions above and nothing has changed), that you also check in with your doctor.
Letting flares go on for too long is a bad idea – something is obviously going on in your body to cause it so finding that cause and fixing it as soon as possible is the best possible course of action.
You might need to change your medication dosage, you may have some mineral/nutrient imbalances that only supplements or some other solution can change, or you might have picked up an infection or parasite. All things that are perfectly normal and should be fixed easily with help.
What to do if you are scared
The most important thing I can leave you with though is that if you are going through a flare, know that it IS a flare and it's temporary.
You aren't dying, the world is not ending, and you WILL get through it. They can be downright scary, especially when you wake up and have 3 more symptoms on top of everything else. It's quite easy to go down that path of thinking that everything is going wrong and to freak out completely. But don't do that – you'll just make things worse.
Calmly assess your situation, answer the questions above, figure out if you can make some positive changes that will get you out of your flare, and then if that doesn't work, talk to your doctor.
You can also talk to others who may either be going through or have gone through the same thing. You can search for local Meetups to find people locally, or I have a free private Facebook group with people from all over the world, most with varying stages of autoimmune disease, all trying to figure out how to make it work. Not everyone eats Paleo (or some form of it), so if you're curious, come join us! Join here.
Write Down Symptoms
It's also helpful to write down all the symptoms you experience. At first, the list will probably get longer and longer, but try to just look at them as if it's happening to someone else. I kind of just laugh as I pile on yet another symptom – “oh, my teeth hurt today, so random”.
As these symptoms start to go away though it feels AWESOME to cross them OFF the list.
Soon you'll find yourself feeling normal again. Try to stick with the new habits that got you out of the flare and not go right back into the old bad habits. I know, easier said than done – preaching to the choir here 🙂
Here are a few things that may help you with your flare:
[LEARN WHY IT HAPPENS]
In my free (no email needed) Autoimmune Disease 101 series, learn what autoimmune disease is, what causes it, how what you eat and how you live affect it, and the diets I recommend to help with symptoms. Watch/Read Part 1 here.
[SEE HOW I GOT BETTER FROM A RECENT FLARE]
Update Sept 2019 – I went through a big Hashi's flare in 2018 so I shared how I first used a Whole30 to try to stop it and then AIP (Autoimmune Paleo) to completely get over it. You can see the Whole30 Series starting here and the AIP one starting here (it's mostly on YouTube right now though (see the AIP Playlist), as I'm still working on getting it onto the blog). Plus my Sept 2019 Update 1 year later. Here's the first video though that started it all:
Subscribe to my YouTube Channel to make sure you get to see all my videos (what I eat, how I'm doing with my Hashi's flare, what I do to keep it under control, living with an autoimmune disease, and more).
[DOWNLOAD FREE RECIPES, GUIDES, AND RESOURCES TO HELP MAKE PALEO, WHOLE30, AND AIP EASIER, FASTER, AND MORE DELICIOUS]
My Paleo freebie library has a ton of stuff on Paleo & AIP that I've created over the 4+ years I've been blogging, including recipe books, meal plans, guides to shopping, eating on a budget, stress relief tips, special trainings, etc. It's meant to be a one-stop go-to resource for you to make this whole thing easier (because having an autoimmune disease is already hard enough!) Get the password here.
*I am not a doctor or medical practitioner – just a Hashimoto's sufferer. This article is meant as encouragement and is not meant to replace any advice from a medical practitioner. Please check with your own doctor if you have any medical-related questions regarding your autoimmune disease.
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