Hashimoto's Thyroiditis is an autoimmune disease that causes the body's immune system to perceive the thyroid as a foreign substance and attacks it. More women than men are affected by Hashimoto's and it is the most common reason a person develops hypothyroidism, which is a low functioning thyroid. Hashimoto's is treatable with medication, but left untreated can cause serious problems.
Hashimoto's and hypothyroidism are not the same thing. Hashimoto's causes the body to attack the thyroid and hypothyroidism is a condition where the thyroid gland doesn't release adequate supplies of its two main hormones T3 and T4. People with Hashimoto's generally develop hypothyroidism but not all hypothyroidism is caused by Hashimoto's.
The thyroid gland is responsible for many of the body's hormones and its malfunction can lead fertility and pregnancy issues like difficulty becoming pregnant and also difficulty maintaining a full term pregnancy.
There a some risk factors to be aware of:
- heredity - Hashimoto's tends to run in families
- sex - more women than men develop Hashimoto's
- age - although Hashimoto's can happen to anyone at any age, it more often happens to middle-aged women
- other autoimmune disorders - when you have one autoimmune disorder, the risk of having others is higher
- radiation - exposure to high amounts of environmental radiation can put one at higher risk of developing Hashimoto's
If Hashimoto's goes undiagnosed and untreated there can be serious consequences:
- goiter - a swelling in the front of the neck caused by an enlarged thyroid can occur. While not usually medically problematic, it can cause obvious issues with one's appearance and may cause problems swallowing and breathing
- heart disease - not only can Hashimoto's cause high levels of LDL, the bad cholesterol, to form, it can also cause an enlargement of the heart and even lead to heart failure
- mental health issues - chronic hypothyroidism can cause brain fog, depression, diminished libido, and slowed mental function. These conditions can worsen over time if not treated
- myxedema - this is a rare and life-threatening condition when hypothyroidism isn't treated for a long time. It can show up as extreme lethargy, sleepiness, unconsciousness and coma that can ultimately lead to death. This condition should be considered a medical emergency and treated as such.
- birth defects - if a birth mother is not treated for hypothyroidism, the child is more likely to be born with developmental issues along with problems with several organs like kidneys, heart and brain.
Hashimoto's and hypothyroidism not caused by Hashimoto's is easily treated with a synthetic hormone called levothyroxine. A simple blood test can usually determine whether the thyroid is functioning properly. Once prescribed, the patient needs to be monitored to make sure the dosing is correct and must continue to be monitored because the dosing may change over time.
Proper dosing is important because too little will be ineffective in getting the amount of thyroid hormone needed in the body and too much can cause hyperthyroid. Hyperthyroid can lead to osteopenia which can lead to osteoporosis and irregular heart rhythm.
If you are prescribed levothyroxine, it's important to allow four hours from the time you take it before you take any other medication or supplements to ensure that there will not be any interference with the proper absorption of the drug.
The bottom line is that Hashimoto's is easily treated but it requires medical testing to make sure the proper dosing is occurring. There are risks involved with over and under medicating so make sure your doctor regularly monitors your blood levels of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH).
If you are feeling any of the symptoms in the graphic, be sure to see you doctor and ask for a thyroid panel that includes an anti-body test to see if you have Hashimoto's. If you do have it, once you have the proper level of medication, the way you feel will vastly improve if your symptoms are all coming from the thyroid.