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What Is Hashimoto’s Disease?

By David Lawrence , in Health , at September 22, 2021

Are you suffering from dry skin, fatigue, or high cholesterol? These symptoms could indicate you have an underactive thyroid, or Hashimoto’s disease.

What is Hashimoto’s disease, exactly? It’s the most common cause of hypothyroidism, which affects about five in 100 Americans. You might not realize you have Hashimoto’s disease until years after you’ve sustained thyroid damage.

Don’t let your condition remain undiagnosed. Instead, read on to learn everything you need to know about Hashimoto’s disease. After reading this guide, you can determine whether or not it’s time to visit a doctor.

Then, you can start treatment for your underactive thyroid before you experience complications.

Read on to learn everything you need to know about Hashimoto’s disease today.

What is Hashimoto’s Disease?

First, let’s answer the question that likely brought you here: what is Hashimoto’s disease?

This condition occurs when your immune system attacks your thyroid. Your thyroid is a small gland at the base of the neck. It’s located under the Adam’s apple.

The thyroid gland is a component of your endocrine system. Your endocrine system produces hormones to regulate bodily functions.

The thyroid is responsible for releasing hormones that regulate functions like your:

  • Muscle strength
  • Metabolism
  • Body temperature

Hashimoto’s disease can cause inflammation, leading to an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism). In fact, Hashimoto’s is the most common cause of hypothyroidism.

This condition is also called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or chronic autoimmune lymphocytic thyroiditis.

Symptoms

Now that we’ve answered the question “what is Hashimoto’s disease,” let’s look at potential symptoms.

Some patients don’t notice signs of Hashimoto’s disease initially. However, you might notice the front of your throat, or goiter, has started swelling.

Hashimoto’s disease can progress slowly over the years before causing serious thyroid damage. The thyroid levels in your blood might drop as a result. You might begin noticing signs of an underactive thyroid gland, including:

  • Hair loss
  • Brittle nails
  • Constipation
  • Increased sensitivity to cold
  • Fatigue or sluggishness
  • Depression
  • Memory lapses
  • Excessive or prolonged menstrual bleeding
  • Joint pain and stiffness
  • Muscle weakness
  • Enlargement of the tongue
  • Unexplained weight gain
  • Muscle stiffness, tenderness, or aches
  • A puffy face
  • Pale, dry skin

Your fight or flight response might remain active. You can learn more about hashimoto’s fight or flight here.

Let your doctor know if you have dry skin, a pale and puffy face, or constipation. Let them know if you’re tired for no apparent reason as well.

If you have high blood pressure, consider asking your doctor if hypothyroidism is the underlying cause.

Remember, you might have Hashimoto’s disease for years before experiencing symptoms. You could begin noticing these symptoms due to prolonged thyroid damage.

Causes and Risk Factors

Autoimmune disorders occur when your immune system creates antibodies that damage the thyroid. Unfortunately, doctors don’t know why this occurs. Some believe it’s a bacterium or virus that triggers the response.

Others hypothesize a genetic flaw is involved.

Certain factors like your age and sex might determine your chances of developing this condition.

For example, women are seven times more likely to develop this disease than men. The condition can sometimes begin during pregnancy.

Most cases occur when patients are between the ages of 40 and 60. However, younger patients can develop Hashimoto’s as well.

Hashimoto’s tends to run in families. Scientists haven’t identified a gene that carries it, though. Your risk might increase if you have a family history of:

  • Addison’s disease
  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Graves’ disease
  • Lupus
  • Sjögren’s syndrome
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Vitiligo

Talk to your doctor if your family has a history of these conditions or hypothyroidism.

Complications

When left untreated, Hashimoto’s disease can lead to complications. For example, you might experience:

  • Anemia
  • Heart problems
  • Depression
  • Decreased libido
  • High cholesterol
  • Confusion
  • Loss of consciousness

Hashimoto’s can also cause problems if you’re pregnant. For example, women might give birth to babies with brain, heart, or kidney defects.

Hashimoto’s could lead to mental health issues like depression. Symptoms could become more severe over time. It might even lead to slowed mental functioning.

Other complications include goiter and myxedema.

Your thyroid gland might become enlarged. Goiter can cause discomfort and impact your ability to breathe or swallow.

Myxedema is a life-threatening condition. It occurs due to long-term severe hypothyroidism. Symptoms include drowsiness, lethargy, and unconsciousness.

If you think you have hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s, talk to a doctor right away to avoid complications.

Treatment

Your doctor might suspect you have Hashimoto’s disease if you have the symptoms of an underactive thyroid.

They’ll likely check your thyroid-stimulating (TSH) levels by scheduling a blood test. Checking your TSH levels will allow them to screen for Hashimoto’s.

When thyroid activity is low, TSH hormone levels will appear high. This means your body is working to stimulate the thyroid gland to produce more hormones.

Your doctor might also use blood tests to determine your cholesterol and antibody levels.

If your thyroid is still functioning normally, you might not require treatment. Your doctor might decide to monitor you for changes instead.

If your thyroid isn’t producing enough hormones, however, they might recommend medication. For example, they might prescribe levothyroxine. Levothyroxine is a synthetic hormone. It’s designed to replace thyroxine (T4) in your body.

This synthetic hormone causes virtually no side effects. However, you might need to take thyroxine for the rest of your life.

Using levothyroxine might help return your thyroid levels to normal. Your symptoms should disappear. However, your doctor might need to adjust your dose in the future.

Make sure to talk to your doctor if you’re already taking:

  • Estrogen
  • Iron supplements
  • Calcium supplements
  • Proton pump inhibitors
  • Cholesterol medications

These products might interact with levothyroxine. You might need to adjust when you take your medications.

Some foods can also impact the absorption rate. Make sure to talk to your doctor to determine the best way to take your medication.

What is Hashimoto’s Disease?: Understanding the Effects of an Underactive Thyroid

To recap, what is Hashimoto’s disease? It’s a condition that causes the immune system to attack your thyroid. It’s also the most common cause of hypothyroidism.

If these symptoms sound familiar, talk to your doctor before complications occur.

Searching for more helpful guides? You’ve come to the right place.

Check out our latest articles today for more.

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