Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis (Hashimoto’s Disease)

The word “thyroiditis” means inflammation of the thyroid gland. Several conditions can cause thyroiditis. Let’s look at one specific type of thyroid disease, called Hashimoto’s.

WHAT IS HASHIMOTO’S DISEASE?

Also called “Hashimoto’s thyroiditis,” “chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis” and “autoimmune thyroiditis,” Hashimoto’s disease causes ongoing inflammation or swelling of the thyroid gland. This can result in reduced production of essential thyroid hormones.

Hashimoto’s disease can be seen at any age, but it is a very common thyroid problem among middle-aged women. Some women simply refer to chronic thyroiditis as “low thyroid.”

WHAT CAUSES HASHIMOTO’S THYROIDITIS?

In Hashimoto’s disease, your immune system attacks its own tissue — in this case, the thyroid gland. This immune system attack causes the thyroid gland to become enlarged and inflamed. The thyroid gland produces hormones that affect the body in many ways, including regulating metabolism, aiding central nervous system activity and virtually every cellular function.

The autoimmune response in Hashimoto’s eventually damages the thyroid gland to the extent it cannot produce adequate amounts of thyroid hormones. This happens slowly, often over the course of years.

RISK FACTORS FOR DEVELOPING HASHIMOTO’S DISEASE

Chronic thyroiditis affects up to five percent of the general population in America. You may be at greater risk for developing Hashimoto’s if you have these risk factors:

  • Female
  • Age between 40 and 60
  • Family history of thyroid problems
  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Pernicious anemia
  • Addison’s disease
  • Vitiligo (a condition that causes the loss of pigmentation in large patches of skin)

HASHIMOTO’S DISEASE SYMPTOMS

Because Hashimoto’s thyroiditis evolves gradually, you may not notice symptoms in the early stages. Eventually, as the thyroid produces fewer and fewer hormones, you may notice symptoms including:

  • Enlarged neck over the larynx (vocal cords) area
  • Weight gain
  • Constipation
  • Difficulty thinking or concentrating (often described as “brain fog”)
  • Hair loss
  • Intolerance to cold
  • Very dry skin

Many of these symptoms can be caused by something other than Hashimoto’s disease, which is why your health care provider will order tests to determine if you have thyroid disease or not.

DIAGNOSING HASHIMOTO’S DISEASE

In general, your health care provider will run a simple blood test to look at your blood thyroid levels. The test also will measure how much thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) your pituitary gland is secreting. TSH stimulates the thyroid to produce hormones. If the pituitary gland constantly asks the thyroid for greater production, your TSH level will be high. This is a key indicator of thyroid disease. Rarely, your health care provider may order imaging studies of the thyroid gland.

WHAT IS THE TREATMENT FOR HASHIMOTO’S THYROIDITIS?

In almost all cases, Hashimoto’s disease is treated with supplemental thyroid hormone. This once-a-day pill increases blood levels of thyroid hormone to make up for the inadequate production of the thyroid gland itself.

Several types of synthetic thyroid hormone are available by prescription, and they are generally inexpensive. Thyroid pills consisting of dessicated animal thyroid usually are not prescribed anymore though they remain available.