Hashimoto’s disease, also called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, is an autoimmune disorder in which a person’s immune system attacks the thyroid gland. This disease is named for Hakaru Hashimoto, the Japanese physician who discovered it. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is the most common cause of hypothyroidism, or decreased activity of the thyroid gland, in the United States. Read on to learn more about this autoimmune disease.
11. What Is Hashimoto’s Disease?
Autoimmune disorders are diseases in which a body’s immune system goes awry and begins attacking healthy body organs or tissues as if they were foreign substances. In Hashimoto’s disease, the affected organ is the thyroid. The thyroid gland is a small gland located just below your Adam’s apple. This gland produces and releases thyroid hormones into your bloodstream. Thyroid hormones regulate body functions such as metabolism, heart function, muscle control, brain development, and mood. When the thyroid is attacked by your immune system, it is no longer able to produce the hormones needed for these necessary functions.
10. Thyroid Hormones
There are two hormones produced by your thyroid gland. They are thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). Your thyroid gland takes in iodine and combines it with an amino acid called tyrosine in order to produce these hormones. These hormones are then released into the bloodstream. T4 is a prohormone which is converted into the active hormone T3 in your liver, gut, and skeletal muscles. Your thyroid gland also produces the hormone calcitonin, which plays a part in lowering calcium levels in the blood.
9. Risk Factors
According to the Mayo Clinic, Hashimoto’s disease is more likely to affect women than men. While this disease can appear at any age, it is most likely to set in during the middle age years. You are at greater risk of developing this disease if a family member has the disease or if you already suffer from another autoimmune disorder. Additionally, exposure to radiation increases your chances of developing this disease.
The symptoms of Hashimoto’s disease are related to the effects of low levels of thyroid hormones. You may notice a swelling of the throat beneath your Adam’s apple as the thyroid gland becomes inflamed and enlarged. Hashimoto’s disease may cause mood changes, fatigue, memory problems, and depression. Pale skin, sensitivity to cold, a puffy face, and brittle nails can also be signs of this disease. Additionally, unexpected weight gain, muscles aches, and joint pain can signal this disorder. Women may notice unusually heavy menstrual bleeding.
Hashimoto’s disease deprives the body of the necessary hormones for healthy function. Neglecting to treat this condition can lead to a number of complications. Hypothyroidism can cause a goiter (an inflamed and swollen thyroid gland), which can affect your ability to swallow food or to breathe. Other possible complications are heart disease, depression, and birth defects. Myxedema is the name for severe, untreated hypothyroidism. It can result in a medical crisis known as myxedema coma, in which the patient may lose consciousness as organ functions slow or shut down.Related: 6 Thyroid Cancer Signs and Symptoms
There are two types of blood tests used for the diagnosis of hypothyroidism, or Hashimoto’s disease. The first is to test your blood for thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). TSH levels become high in the blood when the thyroid is not producing enough thyroid hormones. The pituitary gland of the brain then produces more TSH in an attempt to stimulate the production of T3 and T4. The second test is to determine the presence of antibodies against the enzyme thyroid peroxidase (TPO). If the immune system is attacking TPO, then these antibodies will be present.
5. Treatment with Levothyroxine
The thyroid hormone deficiencies caused by Hashimoto’s disease require treatment with synthetic thyroid hormones. Medications containing levothyroxine are identical to the thyroid hormones normally produced by your body. Levothyroxine is relatively inexpensive and patients with hypothyroidism require this medication for the rest of their lives. It is important to determine the correct dose, and this requires blood tests to check your levels of TSH when beginning therapy. Once the correct dose has been found, you will need to have your TSH levels checked about every 12 months.
4. Precautions Regarding Treatment
It is important to maintain the correct dose of levothyroxine, as levels that are too low lead to symptoms of hypothyroidism. Meanwhile, doses of levothyroxine that are too high can also be dangerous. Excessive levels of levothyroxine can cause heart arrhythmias as well as increase bone loss and worsen osteoporosis. In cases of severe hypothyroidism, treatment must be started gradually and increased slowly. This gives the heart time to adjust to normal levels of thyroid hormone and the effect they have on the heart.Related: 15 Thyroid Disease Symptoms You’re Ignoring
3. Drug Interactions with Levothyroxine
Some foods and medications may affect your body’s ability to properly absorb levothyroxine. Diets heavy in high-fiber foods and consumption of large quantities of soy products may affect the absorption of this medication. Iron supplements, calcium supplements, some cholesterol medications, and some antacids all may affect the absorption of levothyroxine. Check with your doctor if any of these foods or medications are a part of your routine. Your doctor will take this information into consideration when determining your proper levothyroxine dose. The doctor will also instruct you on the proper timing of taking medications that could interact with levothyroxine absorption.
Patients diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease have an excellent prognosis. With inexpensive levothyroxine treatment readily available, thyroid hormone levels can be returned to normal. This reverses the symptoms of hypothyroidism and allows the patient to live a normal life. If you suspect you may be suffering from hypothyroidism, schedule a visit with your doctor for diagnosis and treatment.
1. Other Causes of Hypothyroidism
Hashimoto’s disease is the most common cause of hypothyroidism, but it is not the only cause. Patients who have suffered from an overactive thyroid gland, in which too much of the thyroid hormones are produced, may experience overtreatment. In these cases, treatment of the thyroid gland with antithyroid treatments can lower thyroid hormone production too much. Additionally, thyroid surgery, radiation treatment of the head or neck, and medications such as lithium can all cause hypothyroidism.Related: 15 Hyperthyroidism Foods to Limit or Avoid Altogether