Tags: aches, arthritis, fatigue, flare, flare-up, joint pain, knee, R.A., RA, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), rheumatology, sleep, stiffness, stress, tiredness, work
Today was my first day back at work – knee flare seemed to be pretty much over: the swelling had gone right down, it didn’t feel terribly hot, but it was achy now and then. Hurrah.
However, now the other knee had started to ache – RA, or just a reaction to me walking ‘funny’ because of the left knee flaring? I don’t know – but to add to the mix, today being my first day back at work meant it was also the first day since the holidays where I haven’t spent a significant amount of time with my feet up – and I’m really feeling that this evening, as I sit here typing with an ice pack clamped between my knees, and the heat pack waiting for me in bed!
Here’s the thing though – we’re moving offices tomorrow!
Fortunately hubby has the day off and has been volunteered, slightly unwillingly but with good grace, to be my feet, and the facilities manager in the building is also going to help us lug stuff, and then my two colleagues are both fairly fit … so hopefully I can pull out a conductor’s baton from somewhere and just direct operations!
Tags: arthritis, autoimmune arthritis, diagnosis, doctor, fatigue, GP, IAAM, joint pain, knee, methotrexate, MTX, NRAS, nurse, occupational therapist, OT, pain, physical therapy, physio, R.A., RA, rhematoid arthritis, rheumatoid, Rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), rheumatology, stiffness, tiredness
One of the many things people with rheumatoid arthritis battle with is the many misconceptions around the disease, the most ‘popular’ of which is that ‘arthritis is wear and tear on your joints’. One of the reasons this misconception is so hard to grapple with is that it’s true – sometimes. There are many, many kinds of arthritis – all arthritis means is joint inflammation. It comes from the Greek arthron (arthretes or similar depending on which dictionary you look in!) for joint, and –itis, a suffix used to indicate inflation, so it means inflamed joint.
What the word arthritis doesn’t tell you is why the joint is inflamed, and thereby hangs a tale! It gets even more confusing because arthritis tends to be split into the many kinds of ‘inflammatory arthritis’ on the one side, and osteoarthritis, which (is ‘wear and tear’ though by no means always fair!) on the joints, on the other. And yet arthritis means inflammatory, and of course osteoarthritis can cause some inflammation too, so it makes it even harder to explain the differences simply.
Perhaps the most important thing is that however unpleasant, debilitating and downright painful osteoarthritis is, it affects the joints and only the joints. Rheumatoid arthritis and the other related autoimmune diseases are just that – diseases, aka illnesses, and can affect considerably more than your joints.
The difference in a nutshell
Osteoarthritis (also known as wear-and-tear arthritis or degenerative joint disease) is caused by the cartilage between the bones in a joint wearing away or breaking down. The cartilage basically sits between the bones of a joint and stop them rubbing together. When they do rub together because the cartilage is worn away it can cause a great deal of pain and debilitation. It often (though by no means always) occurs in one joint, and may be a joint that has been used a great deal e.g. a blacksmith getting osteoarthritis in an arm joint.
Rheumatoid arthritis on the other hand (and that’s the one I’m going to talk about because it’s the one I know, as I live with it every day) is a chronic, progressive, inflammatory arthritis. Chronic means long-term, it’s there and, in this case, it’s not going to go away. Progressive means without treatment it’s likely to get worse. It is an autoimmune disease, whereby, for reasons not yet understood (though theories abound) the body’s immune system attacks some of the body’s own tissue instead of (or as well as) invading bacteria etc. In rheumatoid arthritis (RA) it is the synovium (joint lining) that is the main target of attack, but many other organs can be affected too.
Spot the difference
Even doctors find this one tricky, which is why RA can sometimes take a very long time to diagnose. Another problem is that RA seems to crop up with infinite variety; just about every patient ‘presents’ differently when they go to see their doctor. Some things to look out for though are:
RA will almost always occur in more than one joint at the same time
- RA will often involve obvious swelling around the joints
- RA will often involve obvious redness around the joints
- People with RA will often find joints extremely stiff first thing in the morning, with this stiffness wearing away gradually over a period of an hour or more
- People with RA will often feel unwell, with a kind of general ‘don’t feel good’ feeling including tiredness, headaches, lethargy and fatigue
- RA apparently often occurs ‘symmetrically’ – i.e. if you have it one hand, it will also occur in the other. If you have it one knee, it will crop up in the other one too.
- RA frequently affects the small joints – those in the hands and feet, whereas osteoarthritis often affects the larger joints.
But see all those ‘often’s and ‘almost’s? That’s why it’s so hard to diagnose! The worst of my RA, for instance, has been in my knees and shoulders, so I don’t fit the ‘small joints’ pattern, although it does all affect hands and feet.
The good news as told by Pollyanna Penguin
If you have osteoarthritis, short of joint replacement and painkillers there’s probably not a lot you can do about it (although maybe glucosamine helps in some way – the jury is out!) If you have rheumatoid arthritis there are treatments available. They are many and varied, and some work for some people and others work for others and you’re really incredibly unlucky they won’t work for you ; if you’re new to this whole RA thing, don’t panic when you read the blogs all around the RA community. There are hundreds of people out there whose RA is under really good control through drugs and/or other treatments, and as a consequence they consider they have better things to do than blog about arthritis! So those of us who blog tend to be the unlucky ones – although of course there are exceptions. I’m on the fence here – I’m a lucky one – things are pretty much under control, and I only blog once in a while when I have something to say or those nice folks over at IAAM ask me to!
There are many medical treatments out there, and there are new ones coming out quite often too. The new ones, largely ‘biologics’ tend to be very expensive at the moment so your doctor will probably start you off on some of the older ones, which are ‘cheap as chips’ as one of the rheumatology nurses at my hospital put it. I’m on that old stalwart methotrexate. It’s the most commonly used drug I think, it’s certainly ‘cheap as chips’ these days, and for me it really works. Some people have nasty side-effects from it though, and for others it just doesn’t do the job. If that’s the case then it can be tried in combination with other things, or you might be moved on to one of the spangly new biologics.
You might, of course, opt to go for a non-medical treatment. My personal belief is that it’s a good idea to get things under control with medicine and then use other things such as physiotherapy (physical therapy is the US translation!), occupational therapy, acupuncture if you think it helps, dietary things etc. added on top, because I believe that this is a progressive disease and that these various medications, although they won’t flat out cure you, can and often will stop the progression, which is hugely important. Other people disagree and use complementary therapies, which seem to help them. It’s your choice – but please, just do your research before you decide!
So, it’s not all doom and gloom – anyone with RA (or osteo for that matter) would rather not have it, but there are things that can be done, and there is also support out there, from NRAS and Arthritis Care in the UK, the Arthritis Foundation (and others I’m sure) in the US and UK, and now from IAAM, the International Autoimmune Arthritis Movement. IAAM are doing a lot to increase people’s awareness and understanding of what autoimmune arthritis (RA being one kind of that) is, and I’m proud to be a member and a ‘blog leader’ for them. They have established World Autoimmune Arthritis Day (WAAD), to be held annually on May 20th, online and during all time zones, making it a 47-hour online event! This Virtual Convention will unite patients, supporters and nonprofits from around the globe, inviting them to participate in both live and on-demand presentations, scheduled live chat sessions, surveys, live Call to Action posts and access to an online library of downloadable resources that can help people with autoimmune arthritis and their supporters in managing their diseases. WAAD is registered on 16 health calendars internationally and has already received nonprofit support from over a dozen organizations, including the American College of Rheumatology, the Spondylitis Association of America, Arthritis New Zealand, the International Still’s Disease Foundation and Lupus UK. As the official Host of this historic event, IAAM invites YOU to be a part of it too. Best of all? It’s FREE to register!
World Autoimmune Arthritis Day (WAAD) website link- www.worldautoimmunearthritisday.org
WAAD registration link- http://events.r20.constantcontact.com/register/event?llr=0&oeidk=a07e5n7i1aq5f98d0e9
And what’s more, it’s IAAM’s first birthday on May 7th. Slightly in advance Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday dear IA(AAAA)AM*, happy birthday to you.
* Can’t sing it properly without some extra As!
Tags: aches, arthritis, doctor, fatigue, flare, flare-up, GP, joint pain, NHS, RA, rhematoid arthritis, rheumatology, sleep, stress, tiredness, work
No … probably not!
It’s just possible, maybe, perhaps, that I’ve sliiiiiiiightly overdone it this week! The plan for this week was that on top of work (quite busy) I would also have: the dreaded surgery Patient Panel on Monday – bound to be acrimonious as they’re introducing a telephone triaging system which has gone done like a lead balloon with most patients; my second Spanish lesson on Wednesday (a drive all the way in tew the ci’ee (aka Norwich); on Thursday morning a reunion meeting for a course I attended last year (again in the ci’ee); an Embroiderers Guild talk to attend on Friday night (in the ci’ee); a botanical drawing course all day Saturday (an hour’s drive away); and finally taking mum out for a mother’s day meal (in the ci’ee again) today.
I had also committed to growing a sour-dough started for ‘Herman the German Friendship Cake’, with the extra starter to be passed on to three friends on Thursday and the cake baked on Friday.
What I hadn’t considered when taking all this on was the possibility that BOTH the ‘junior penguins’ might be off sick (there’s a dreadful sinusitis bug raging around our wee town at the moment!) and that I’d therefore be incredibly stressed at work, trying to meet deadlines and earn money for three! Hubby suggested I needed a notice above my desk: ‘Penguin: Working to earn your sick-pay.’
Something had to give – and unfortunately it was the reunion, which I was really looking forward to. I obviously couldn’t have the time off work with the other two both sick! I went to the patient panel – and walked out after 1.5 hours, having spent the first 45 minutes wasting time discussing stuff we’ve been discussing since it started in 2008. It was just starting to get acrimonious when I said sorry, I had to go, but I’d made my points by then.
I was already tired by Wednesday but determined not to miss the Spanish lesson, as it was only the second one, even though my brain was pretty fogged by the end of the hour and I’m not sure much went in! I must remember to say no to the generous offer of Spanish-strength coffee when I arrive; I didn’t get much sleep that night due to caffeine buzz!
Nevertheless, the work got done, the cake got baked (and delicious), the talk got went to (see – told you by brain’s fugged – can’t do grammar proper at the moment) and the plants got drawn, but I have a nasty feeling I’m heading for a flare – or at least a fizzle! Well no, let’s be honest, I’m HAVING the fizzle and hoping it’s going to be a damp squib and not a flare!
At least mum’s driving us into the ci’ee today for our Mother’s Day meal so all I have to do is eat and pay. Think I can manage that!
Tags: aches, arthritis, exercise, fatigue, joint pain, knee, pain, R.A., RA, rhematoid arthritis, rheumatoid, Rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), rheumatology, sleep, stiffness, tiredness, work
I’ve spent the last six months on a very useful course run by our local university business school, on helping small businesses to grow. It’s been great and I’ve met some lovely people along the way. Tonight we were asked to do a ‘showcase’ where each of the businesses on the course had a little exhibition stand and said a few words into a mike and generally chatted to invited guests, university bigwigs, previous course attendees and each other.
Unfortunately I was dreading it because I knew the admin was a mess. Fortunately although the admin was a mess, a handful of very brave people had stepped in at the last minute to salvage what they could, and they did a marvellous job. However, as suspected, when we arrived to set up our exhibit, rather than the floor-plan with everyone’s tables labelled, display boards there and of course, vital for me, and definitely requested in advance, CHAIRS, there was organised chaos.
Fortunately the wonderful people who’d stepped in at the last minute were on hand to sort everything out, and equally fortunately we’d brought some folding chairs with us! I did feel sorry for some of the others though, as there were no chairs available at all.
Having said that, once the evening got going I hardly had a chance to sit down, as we were all buzzing about and chatting to each other. There was a really good atmosphere and, in spite of not looking forward to it, we had FUN. On the other hand, I’m absolutely wiped out, completely shattered, totally exhausted … and my left knee is giving me gyp from so much standing around.
Entirely my own fault of course. I had a chair, I have the capability to sit down in it, but I suppose it was partly not wanting to miss out on anything and partly the old not wanting to admit I had a problem, leading to one of those conversations. You know the ones: ‘My auntie’s got arthritis too. It’s all cleared up though since she started rubbing in bindweed’ or ‘all you have to do to get rid of it is lose some weight.’* What I should have done was go and have a chat with the yoga lady and get her to give me some stretching exercises – but every time I looked in her direction (at least right up until the last few minutes) she was deep in conversation.
Oh well, working from home tomorrow so I think that might start with a bit of a lie-in!
* Not that I’m denying that would help!
Tags: aches, arthritis, exercise, fatigue, fibromyalgia, joint pain, knee, neck pain, pain, R.A., RA, rhematoid arthritis, rheumatoid, Rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), sleep, stiffness, stress, tiredness, weather, work
Well more split Penguin really – my right side is ready to take on the world this morning, but my left side just wants to go back to bed with a hot-water-bottle (or perhaps Enormous Cat on hot-water-bottle duty). This is not my usual pattern – usually I have, for instance, a bad knee and a worse knee, or a pair of bad shoulders, but this morning everything on the right is fine but my left hand, elbow, shoulder and knee are all stiff and painful!
I rather suspect that this has as much to do with fibromyalgia than it does with RA, because although the knee and elbow feel joint-related the shoulder is definitely muscular … well, when I say definitely it’s actually hard to be sure I find, but it doesn’t feel like the usual rheumatoid arthritis pain. I’ve had a few problems in the last few days with it, having foolishly swung round to grab something behind me on Saturday and then found myself curled up in a ball on my chair going, ‘Ow, ooops, I really shouldn’t have done that’.* Unbelievably I then did exactly the same thing twice on Sunday! It’s such a dumb thing to do for someone who knows damn well they get problems in neck and shoulders! I blame the fact that they’d felt so good lately that I’ve been less aware of having to be careful … which I suppose is something I really can’t complain about.
Oh well, I have a mountain of work to get through today thanks to the over-enthusiasm of a colleague on Thursday who, forgetting I was on my own for the first half of the week, may have bitten off more work than we can chew, so I’m going to have to let the right side rule!
*This is the expurgated version
Tags: acceptance, aches, arthritis, flare, flare-up, joint pain, knee, neck pain, normality, R.A., RA, rhematoid arthritis, rheumatoid, Rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), rheumatology, stiffness, tiredness
I’ve been thinking a lot lately (although writing very little!) about what ‘acceptance’ of RA means, and also about redefining my idea of ‘normal’. I hadn’t managed, and still haven’t managed in fact, to get my thoughts into words, but I think this afternoon I came as close to ‘acceptance’ as perhaps I ever will.
As I was relaxing in the bath (sorry, probably ‘too much information, especially for those that know me!) and letting my thoughts drift along pretty randomly, I started to think about some of my friends and colleagues: one’s still coping with the aftermath of the Japanese earthquake; one’s recently widowed; one’s, to put it bluntly, losing her marbles; one’s spending this weekend picking up the pieces in her house, since large swathes of the downstairs flooring were dug up on Friday to find a leak.
Good grief, I thought – I’m bloody lucky! I have a loving (and all-round fab) husband, a terrific family (especially the nearest and dearest, including the recent addition of Mrs Mooseface), I have great friends, I enjoy my job, I have time (never enough time of course, but some time) to indulge my passions of messing around with textiles, drawing and pottering about in bits of nature, and although one could always be better off financially, the finances aren’t a complete disaster! The interesting point is that at no point during these thoughts floating over the bubbles did I consider, ‘Yes, but I do have this bloody disease to deal with, so perhaps not so lucky after all.’
It’s not as though things are going great with the RA at the moment either. I wake up every morning in pain, although it often clears for the most part within the hour. I go to sleep most nights in pain. I have pain and stiffness during every day. This is perhaps extra frustrating because for around four months between a flare in March and sometime around August, I felt as though I was pretty much fine, almost symptom free, nearly in remission. And yet, in a way, this on-and-off low-grade (for the most part) pain has just become the norm for me. It’s just another thing to put on one side and live with – and yes, I do appreciate I’m lucky that I can put it on one side at the moment, it’s not so bad that it stops me doing all those things I consider myself lucky for, but what interested me was the fact that it was so far into the normal, everyday that I didn’t even give it a thought when considering other people’s problems and drifting into comparing my life to theirs.
I think I might have once ranted that I will never ‘accept’ this disease, and don’t even mention the word ‘embrace’ in the same breath as rheumatoid arthritis, but perhaps this is acceptance, Penguin-style.
Tags: aches, coping strategies, RA, rhematoid arthritis, Rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), stiffness, stress, tiredness, work
Someone just posted a request on tips for coping with RA on the NRAS Healthunlocked site that I mentioned previously, so I thought I’d ‘cross-post’ mine here, although I’ll add to them a bit because I didn’t want to hog the post on that site!
Not saying all these will work for everyone, it’s just what works for me!
- Make sure you take all your tabs and don’t be afraid to use pain relief too! You’re not proving anything by struggling through without paracetamol (or whatever). I also have a wax bath for my hands when I need it, a TENS machine and a front-fastening neck brace. Hardly ever have to use any of them but they’re there if I need them! (So long as I remember I have them!)
- PACE YOURSELF. It’s not good saying, ‘I’m just going to battle through with my usual routine’ because that’ll just make things worse. On the other hand, to stay positive I definitely don’t get into the thought pattern of ‘I mustn’t plan anything in advance, because RA might get in the way.’ Yes, it might, and it often does, but you still have to make plans and have things to look forward to.
- ACCEPT HELP! – but at the same time make sure to stay independent as much as you can. So for instance I make sure I get referrals to physio when I need them and go and nag the doc if I need to. And make sure I don’t turn away offers of help from good friends and colleagues. But at the same time I won’t just sit about and let people run around after me when I feel fine – tempting though it might be sometimes!
- TREAT YOUR FRIENDS RIGHT: I don’t think you can’t spend all the time moaning to your friends or they start thinking, ‘Where’s the Penguin I used to know? I don’t like this one!’ On the other hand, a REAL friend will at least listen when things are really bad, offer to help and MEAN it! If they don’t do that, then perhaps they’re not real friends anyway! They expect the same thing in return of course. If they don’t it then you’re not a real friend either!
- In my case I’m extremely lucky to have a wonderful hubby who, bizarrely, enjoys housework, so that’s one big burden taken away from me! I’d recommend a house-work loving partner to anyone with RA but I guess they’re pretty rare!
- SLEEP! Really make sure that you get enough sleep if you possibly can, and if you need to then try a herbal or a prescription sleeping thing, because getting enough sleep makes everything else better!
I strongly suspect that one could help oneself by being tidy and having a place for everything and everything in its place. This would negate the need to try to kneel down and search under the bed with bad knees, and then find whatever it is isn’t there anyway … However, as I’m the messiest person I know and was doing just that scrabbling under the bed thing only yesterday, I can’t put that in as a personal recommendation really!
Tags: positive thinking, R.A., RA, reframing, rhematoid arthritis, rheumatoid, Rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), rheumatology, tiredness, weather, work
I’m feeling a lot better at the moment. Exercise obviously is the cure for or ills! (Well perhaps not, but I think it might have helped a bit! Perhaps it’s browsing books that made me feel better!) Anyway, in spite of feeling better physically I woke up yesterday with a major ‘Monday morning feeling’ and a distinct grump on about the fact that we’d had too really gloomy days over the weekend and yet last Friday and this Monday (when I had to work, of course, or in Friday’s case would have been working if I hadn’t been at home with my head under a pillow trying to shift the latest migraine), we had gloriously sunny, spring days.
Then I decided this was not the positive thinking penguin I wanted to be! So I ‘reframed’ and started to think, ‘Hey, at least I can glance out of the window and see blue sky and the promise of spring, even if I do have to work.’ Then at lunchtime I managed to reframe, ‘Oh heck, we’ve gone a bit quiet at work, will we have enough to keep us going?’ to ‘Ooh, goodie, we’re a bit quiet. I’ve got time to go for a nice walk at lunch time and enjoy the sunshine.’ And I did. I only went up and down the high street, popped into a few charity shops and had a browse (got seriously tempted by a knitting machine, but that’s another story) but mostly just wandered up and down soaking up the sun (in a well wrapped kind of way, given that it’s still February!) but I felt so much better for it, and so much better for seeing the aconites starting to flower, bright yellow splashes of colour that are definitely the heralds of spring round here! (It was the primroses where I used to live, in Devon, but here it’s the snowdrops and the aconites.) Anyway, I’m feeling much better for it – and hoping that today will bring a bit more sunshine and another chance for a walk … although my fears about lack of work were groundless, as a load more has come in! Even so, I shall jolly well make time for a walk at lunch time!
Tags: arthritis, migraine, R.A., RA, rhematoid arthritis, Rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), shoulder pain, stiffness, stress, tiredness, work
Hmm, not feeling quite so fine any more! I had to finish work early yesterday because I woke up with a headache and it just got worse and worse until I finally realised it was a migraine. My migraines usually start with handy visual effects that flag up, ‘Hello! I’m a migraine’ straight away, but of course I was probably asleep at the point where those were happening, so I missed that.) Although it was one sided, it wasn’t that bad when I woke up so I just took paracetamol. It just niggled away all morning, and eventually I thought ‘migraine?’ and took a migraine tablet. by then I suppose it was waaaaaaaaaay too late.
At about three o’clock it was getting really bad – feeling sick, couldn’t see properly out of my right eye, bad pain … definitely time to give up and go home. Fortunately hubby had the day off and was there to get me tucked up in bed with an ice pack, a darkened room and middle-sized cat (who purred so loudly at the unexpected pleasure of an afternoon snuggle that I was very glad my migraines aren’t affected much by noise – only light!)
I felt slightly better by about six and was able to eat some dinner, which made me feel better still, but still completely washed out. I didn’t do anything all evening except watch a bit of telly once the headache had gone.
Still, at least woke up this morning headache free. Just one small problem … they’re painting at work! Aaaaargh – the smell of paint is bringing the headache right back again! Not sure how long I’m going to last this time.
Interestingly I’ve got pains in my right shoulder for the first time in a while, coinciding with a migraine over my right eye. I’m fairly convinced they’re related … but the doctors aren’t!
If there’s anybody out there that gets migraines that they think are related to their RA Pain, I’d love to hear from you!
Tags: aches, arthritis, depression, doctor, fatigue, flare, flare-up, GP, hospital, hypothyroidism, joint pain, methotrexate, MTX, pain, R.A., RA, rhematoid arthritis, Rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), sleep, stress, T3, T4, thyroid, thyroxine, tiredness, TSH
I went for monthly MTX blood tests today and remembered to ask if the thyroid results were normal – I’d assumed they were, since no one at the surgery had bothered to contact me. They weren’t.
Having said that, they weren’t all that abnormal either, so what are we doing about it? In their case nothing as yet, in my case getting rather confused …and cold …and tired … and achy … but mostly just confused. Until I went in and asked for the results I thought a thyroid test was just that, one test, one answer – OK, not OK, whatever. But no … it turns out there’s a test for thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) which is produced by the pituitary gland and stimulates thyroxine production from the thyroid gland. Then there’s tests for the two types of hormone the thyroid gland itself produces, thyroxine (T4) and the other one whose name I can’t remember (T3). Counter-intuitively, if you have lots of TSH sloshing about it means your thyroid might be UNDER-active, because you have to produce a lot of TSH to get the thyroid to do anything at all. If you have loads of T3 and/or T4 (produced by the thyroid gland itself) then you obviously have an overactive thyroid as the thyroid is producing loads of the stuff. If you have very little then clearly you have an under-active thyroid.
Symptoms of the latter include feeling cold when it isn’t (box ticked), weight gain or difficulty in losing weight (box ticked), muscle aches (box ticked), abnormal menstrual cycles (oh yeaaaah!), decreased libido (what’s libido again, somebody?), irritability (well … erm … guilty) and memory loss (not sure, can’t remember). However, my levels of T-whatever – not sure if they tested for T3, T4 or both, are in the normal range. My level of TSH though is just outside the normal range – just a smidge too high. As a consequence the docs have decided to wait and see. I can totally understand the logic of this – apparently it does fluctuate and it’s not as if it’s wildly off the scale, so try again in another month and see if it’s still high, and if the levels of T-whatsit have decreased or not.
Really – I can totally understand that – but it’s just sooooo frustrating, as I sit here grumpily shivering, with period pains! (Oh yeah, and a flare just to increase the fun.)
One interesting thing – apparently the most common cause of hypothyroidism (under-active thyroid) is an autoimmune problem. Surprise, surprise!
As to the confusion – I’ve just about got it straight in my head that there are all these tests and roughly what they’re for, but nowhere can I find clear guidance as to what is and isn’t normal range for any of these tests – it seems that for TSH it used to be considered that up to 5.5 was OK, now they reckon about 4.5, or maybe 3.5, or sometimes 2 depending on who you ask, and apparently some authorities in the UK reckon up to 10 is fine! I’m just going to go off and find a nice sandpit to bury my head in for the next month.