An estimated 20 million Americans suffer from some kind of thyroid disease, but about 60 percent of people with thyroid disease are unaware of their condition, according to the American Thyroid Association.
One such thyroid disease is Hashimoto’s disease. Also known as chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis or chronic thyroiditis, Hashimoto’s disease is one of the most common causes of hypothyroidism in the United States.
Hashimoto’s disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes the body’s immune system to mistakenly attack and start destroying the thyroid gland and its ability to produce hormones.
Thyroid hormones help regulate metabolism, body temperature, muscle strength and many other functions of the body. Thus, impaired thyroid functioning can take a toll on your health.
It is not clear what exactly causes this autoimmune disorder, but it is believed that genetic factors may be involved.
Risk Factors for Developing Hashimoto’s Disease
Although the cause of Hashimoto’s disease is not known, certain factors can increase your risk of developing this disease.
- Your genes can be a high risk factor. When one family member has an autoimmune condition, others are more likely to develop one. It can be Hashimoto’s disease or something else like celiac disease or rheumatoid arthritis.
- Women are at a higher risk than men. Hashimoto’s disease is seven times more likely to occur in women (due to hormonal changes), especially women who have been pregnant.
- Excessive iodine in the body can trigger this disease. It is recommended to eat less iodine, if you have a family history of the disease.
- Hashimoto’s disease is also one of the most common effects of radiation exposure. People who received radiation for leukemia and other types of cancer are at a higher risk of developing this disease, as well as Graves’ disease, Type 1 diabetes, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and Addison’s disease.
Symptoms of Hashimoto’s Disease
Many people may have Hashimoto’s for many years before experiencing any noticeable signs and symptoms. The disease can remain stable for years without causing any problem.
Moreover, there are no signs and symptoms that are specific to this disease. Most symptoms are related to other conditions, especially hypothyroidism. This is why timely diagnosis is difficult.
As the disease progresses, it causes underactive thyroid resulting in the following symptoms.
- Drowsiness or feeling sluggish
- Mild weight gain
- Dry, pale skin
- Puffy face
- Weak and brittle nails
- Thinning hair
- Hoarse voice
- Lower body muscle weakness
- Increased sensitivity to cold
- Irregular or heavy periods
- Fertility problems
- Enlarged thyroid or goiter
- Joint or muscle pain
- Forgetfulness and difficulty with learning
- Increased sensitivity to many medications
Complications Related to Hashimoto’s Disease
Because the symptoms of this autoimmune disease also resemble other diseases, it becomes difficult to get a timely diagnosis. If not detected and properly treated, Hashimoto’s disease can cause potentially severe heath complications.
Some of these complications include:
- Heart problems, including heart failure
- Confusion and loss of consciousness
- High cholesterol
- Decreased libido
- Birth defects
Over time, it may increase your risk of developing autoimmune disorders like:
- Type 1 diabetes
- Lupus erythematosus
- Ovary problems
- Heart problems
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Addison’s disease
To reduce the risk of these complications, Hashimoto’s disease requires appropriate management and continued treatment.
How to Diagnose Hashimoto’s Disease
If you experience any of the above-mentioned symptoms, you must get your thyroid checked.
Testing the level of TSH, a thyroid-stimulating hormone produced by the pituitary gland, is important for diagnosing any type of thyroid disorder. With a simple blood test, a doctor can easily identify low levels of the thyroid hormones T3 and/or
T4 as well as increased levels of TSH. The latter indicates that the pituitary gland is trying harder to stimulate the thyroid to produce more hormones.
A blood test can also show abnormal antibodies that might be attacking the thyroid.
Treatment for Hashimoto’s Disease
If diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease, you will need medication to correct any symptoms due to a thyroid hormone deficiency. Most often, a single daily tablet of levothyroxine is all that is needed for the rest of your life.
Levothyroxine is a synthetic hormone that replaces the missing thyroid hormone thyroxine.
Make sure to get your TSH level checked from time to time (around every 12 months) as your doctor may need to change the dosage.
Important Things to Consider
When taking thyroid medication, there are certain things that you need to bear in mind.
- Certain medications like iron or calcium supplements, cholesterol-lowering medication and protein pump inhibitors can affect your body’s ability to absorb levothyroxine. Hence, always consult your doctor before taking any new medications.
- If taking other medications, adjust the time of day you take your thyroid medication to help the medications work properly.
- Women who are planning to become pregnant should always get their thyroid level checked. Uncontrolled thyroid problems can lead to infertility and even increase the risk for complications like preeclampsia and possible birth defects.
- A diet too high in fiber can affect absorption of the drug used to treat Hashimoto’s disease. It is also recommended that you eliminate immune-reacting foods like gluten, food sensitivities, etc.
- Consume gut-healing foods like probiotics to keep your gut healthy.
- Boost the body’s natural detoxification ability to get rid of harmful toxins.
- Reduce and manage stress to keep this autoimmune disease under control.