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Hashimoto's disease or Hashimoto's thyroiditis is a condition that leads to hypothyroidism. This occurs when the butterfly-shaped thyroid gland in the front of the neck is unable to produce enough thyroid hormones, causing the bodily functions to slow down. These hormones regulate metabolism, muscle strength, body temperature, and many other vital processes. Hashimoto's disease is the most common cause of hypothyroidism. Low thyroid function can cause weight gain, lower cardiac fitness, and irregular heart rhythms. It is almost always painless but makes swallowing difficult. Most people with this condition require treatment.

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Causes: A Broken Immune System

Hashimoto's disease is considered an autoimmune disorder. The role of the immune system is to protect the body from outside invaders, such as germs and environmental substances. Instead, the immune system turns against the body itself, attacking glands, joints, the liver, blood cells, and more. In people with Hashimoto's disease, white blood cells and antibodies from the immune system attack the thyroid gland and cause it to decrease the output of hormones. Experts believe susceptibility for this illness run in families. A prior history of another autoimmune disorder, such as rheumatoid arthritis, vitiligo, or lupus raises the risk of developing Hashimoto's disease.

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Causes of Immune System Failure

Scientists do not know exactly what causes autoimmune conditions to occur. The immune system is always under attack by environmental toxins and infectious organisms. This, in addition to genetic predisposition, may cause the immune system to malfunction. It may become overwhelmed with additional threats while dealing with others at the same time.

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Symptoms: Same as Hypothyroidism

The symptoms of Hashimoto's disease are the same as those for hypothyroidism: the body's functions gradually slow down. At first, the gland becomes inflamed and may leak excess hormones, causing hyperthyroidism -- a speeding-up of bodily functions. But this wears off and as more inflammation occurs, the gland produces smaller amounts of hormones. Fatigue and unexplained weight gain appear. Many patients, however, do not experience symptoms for many years, depending on how quickly or slowly the condition develops.

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Additional Symptoms

There are many possible symptoms of Hashimoto's disease, including

  • Constipation due to slowing of the digestive system
  • Pale, dry skin
  • Feeling sluggish
  • High cholesterol
  • Lower body muscle weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Hoarse voice
  • Cold intolerance
  • Thinning hair
  • Depression
  • Problems with fertility
  • Heavy or irregular menstrual periods

An individual may have Hashimoto's disease for a long period before the condition begins causing any noticeable damage.

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Complications of Hashimoto's Disease

A rare but serious complication of Hashimoto's disease is myxoedema, which treatment can generally prevent. The complication is severe because it causes profound sleepiness and extreme cold sensitivity and can lead to coma and death. Another less dangerous complication is the formation of goiters, swollen thyroid glands visible as lumps on the neck. They are usually painless but may cause difficulty swallowing and create a feeling of fullness in the throat. Other complications include heart failure, anemia, lower sex drive, and babies born with defects of the brain, heart, and kidneys.

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Treatment: Medication

Diagnosis of Hashimoto's disease is done using lab tests. The physician will order a thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) blood test to determine its level. If the test shows high levels of TSH, this means the hormone thyroxine (T4) is low and needs replacing. The standard treatment involves returning the T4 level to normal with a synthetic hormone. This medication has no side effects, but the individual may need to take it for the rest of his or her life. Any symptoms a person has will eventually disappear. The physician will monitor the levels and adjust the dosage. Other medications and supplements can interfere with the synthetic hormone, including estrogen, iron and calcium supplements, some cholesterol medications, and proton pump inhibitors for acid reflux.

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Treatment: Diet

Most experts recommend a high protein diet for this condition. Protein helps speed up the metabolism. The paleo diet is often effective because it places a focus on lean meats and fish. A gluten-free diet may also help symptoms. Foods to avoid include soy, nuts and seeds, starchy plants like sweet potatoes, some fruits, vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, spinach, and dairy and processed foods.

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Treatment: Exercise

Exercise raises the production of thyroid hormones, which in turn raises metabolism. Aerobic exercise at a moderate to high intensity is best. Brisk walking, running, and playing sports are effective options, but people with Hashimoto's disease should check with a physician before beginning any new exercise program. Low levels of thyroid hormones can lead to heart failure, and exercise can help prevent this, while also relieving fatigue and depression.

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Statistics

There are 200,000 new diagnosed cases of Hashimoto's disease every year. The number of identified cases has increased in recent years because of better diagnostic techniques and tracking family members of known patients to catch genetic cases. Women are seven times more likely to have Hashimoto's than men. Experts believe the condition affects one to two percent of the population.

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Prognosis

In 25 percent of individuals with Hashimoto's disease, the condition goes away by itself with or without treatment. Another quarter will see the functioning of the gland decrease until it stops working altogether. A third quarter will also have decreasing hormone output, but it will stabilize at a low level. Those in the fourth quarter will see their hormone levels remain steady and stable.

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Disclaimer

This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.