Hashimoto's Disease

Written by Carmella Wint and Elizabeth Boskey, PhD | Published on August 16, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

Overview

Hashimoto’s disease damages your thyroid function. It is also called chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis or just chronic thyroiditis. Hashimoto’s is the most common cause of hypothyroidism, an underactive thyroid.

The thyroid releases hormones that regulate your metabolism, body temperature, and muscle strength.

What Is the Cause of Hashimoto’s Disease?

Hashimoto’s disease is an autoimmune disorder. The antibodies in your body attack the cells of the thyroid. Doctors do not know why this happens. Some scientists think genetic factors may be involved.

Am I at Risk for Developing Hashimoto’s Disease?

The cause of Hashimoto’s disease is not known. However, several risk factors have been identified for the disease. It is seven times more likely to occur in women than men, especially women who have been pregnant. Your risk may also be higher if you have a family history of autoimmune diseases, such as:

  • Graves’ disease
  • type 1 diabetes
  • lupus
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • vitiligo
  • Addison’s disease

What Are the Symptoms of Hashimoto’s Disease?

Hashimoto’s symptoms are not unique to the disease. Instead, it causes the symptoms of an underactive thyroid. Signs that your thyroid isn’t working properly include:

  • constipation
  • dry, pale skin
  • hoarse voice
  • high cholesterol
  • depression
  • lower body muscle weakness
  • fatigue
  • feeling sluggish
  • cold intolerance
  • thinning hair
  • irregular or heavy periods
  • problems with fertility

You may have Hashimoto’s for many years before you have any symptoms. The disease can progress for a long time before it causes noticeable damage.

Some people with this condition develop an enlarged thyroid. Known as a goiter, this may cause the front of your neck to look swollen. A goiter rarely causes any pain. However, it may make your throat feel full or swallowing difficult.

Hashimoto’s Disease Diagnosis

Your doctor may suspect this condition if you have the symptoms of an underactive thyroid. If so, a blood test will be used to check your thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels. This common test is one of the best ways to screen for Hashimoto’s. TSH is a hormone made when thyroid activity is low.

Your doctor may also use blood tests to check your levels of:

  • thyroid hormone
  • antibodies
  • cholesterol

These tests can help confirm your diagnosis

Treatment of Hashimoto’s Disease

Not all people with Hashimoto’s need treatment. If your thyroid is functioning normally, you may just be monitored for changes.

If your thyroid is not producing enough hormones, you may need medication. Levothyroxine is a synthetic hormone that replaces the missing thyroid hormone, thyroxine. It has virtually no side effects. If you need this drug, you will be on it for the rest of your life.

Regular use of levothyroxine can return your hormone levels to normal. When this happens, your symptoms will usually disappear. However, you will probably need regular tests to monitor your hormone levels. This allows your doctor to adjust your dose as necessary.

Things to Consider

Some supplements and medications can affect your body’s ability to absorb levothyroxine. It is important to talk to your doctor about any medications that you’re taking. Some products that are known to cause problems include:

  • aluminum hydroxide, commonly found in antacids
  • iron supplements
  • calcium supplements
  • Questran, a cholesterol drug
  • Kayexalate, a drug for people with high blood potassium

Certain foods can also affect absorption of this drug. Let your doctor know if you have a diet that’s high in fiber or soy. These can affect your hormone levels.

Complications Related to Hashimoto’s Disease

If left untreated, Hashimoto’s disease can cause complications. These include:

Hashimoto’s can also cause problems during pregnancy. Recent research from Johns Hopkins suggests that women with this condition are more likely to give birth to babies with heart, brain, and kidney defects. This is true even when their thyroid function tests are normal during pregnancy.

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