Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is an autoimmune disorder effecting the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland is a small butterfly shaped gland located in the front of your neck. It is responsible for the production of a hormone known, not coincidentally, as thyroid hormone. In persons with Hashimoto’s, the body attacks the thyroid gland, mistakenly thinking that it is foreign tissue. The gland becomes swollen and damaged. When this happens, the thyroid gland stops making thyroid hormone properly. This leads to a condition known as hypothyroidism – which simply means a “lack of thyroid”.
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is also known as chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis, although this name is far less commonly used. Hashimoto was the Japanese doctor who first described the disease and thus had it named after him.
Hashimoto’s is the most common thyroid disorder seen in America. It is generally seen in women between the ages of 30 and 50. Over the age of 60 almost 25% of women will show some elevation in antithyroid antibodies – a key determinant in diagnosing Hashimoto’s. However, only a small percentage of these woman will ever show symptoms of clinical hypothyroidism. There is a genetic risk factor as well, although the details of the genes involved in this are not well understood.
People with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis can have an initial period of hyperthyroid symptoms. This is due to the release of stored thyroid when the thyroid gland is damaged. Once all of the stored thyroid is used up however, the patient will become hypothyroid due to a lack of new thyroid hormone production.
Symptoms of Hashimoto’s
There are several common symptoms associated with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. The symptoms are similar to what would be seen in any cause of hypothyroidism and can include: a Goiter, difficulty swallowing, fatigue, dry skin, weight gain, cold intolerance, puffy face, pale skin, constipation, muscle aches and weakness. This might seem like quite a long list, and it can be somewhat intimidating to read, however it is important to note that not every person is going to experience every one of these symptoms. Some of the symptoms will be more common than others in most cases.
Hashimoto’s can also lead to dry mouth, dry eyes, as seen in other autoimmune diseases such as Sjogren’s syndrome. It is because of this that it is important to get your doctor involved early so that you can confirm the proper diagnosis and make sure that you’re being treated for the correct problem.
Hashimoto’s typically progresses slowly over a period of years. The disease can fail to show symptoms for many years before it gets bad enough to notice.
Hashimoto’s involves your immune system making antibodies that attack the thyroid gland. These antibodies are appropriately named “anti-thyroid antibodies” and can easily be tested for in a small sample of blood. This is one of the first tests that your doctor will do if it is suspected that you may be suffering from Hashimoto’s. A proper workup to determine if you have Hashimoto’s involves several tests for various thyroid hormones, including TSH, T3, T4, anti-thyroid antibodies and possibly a few lesser known factors that you doctor may decide to look at.
Treatment for Hashimoto’s is rather simple. Although there is no permanent “cure” it is possible to hold off the symptoms by simply replacing the lost thyroid hormone. A daily thyroid hormone tablet can easily and cheaply replace the thyroid that is not being made by your body. This will need to be taken daily for the rest of your life, as it is a replacement, not a cure.
See your doctor if you think you may have symptoms related to thyroid production. The tests are easy and inexpensive, but you have get them done without seeing your doctor for an evaluation.