Hashimoto’s disease is one of the most common autoimmune diseases today. Also called chronic autoimmune thyroiditis and chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis, it directly affects the thyroid gland which controls a variety of critical functions throughout our bodies.
Here, we’ll explore what Hashimoto’s disease is, its symptoms, and how it is diagnosed and treated.
What Is Hashimoto’s Disease
Hashimoto’s disease is an autoimmune disorder that affects the thyroid. The thyroid is a gland at the front of the neck that produces hormones that control how the body uses energy.
When someone has Hashimoto’s disease, their body’s immune system produces antibodies that attack the thyroid. This can lead to hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) or, in rare cases, hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid).
With hypothyroidism, the thyroid doesn’t produce enough hormones. These hormones control how fast the heart beats, how fast the body burns calories, body temperature, and more. Proper diagnosis and treatment, however, can help replace thyroid hormone and support vital bodily functions.
Does Hashimoto’s weaken your immune system?
Although Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disease, it does not make someone immunocompromised.
The immune system is complex and multifaceted; the same part of the immune system that attacks the thyroid gland in people with Hashimoto’s is not the same part of the system that protects against external pathogens. This means having Hashimoto’s disease does not make someone more susceptible to viruses, such as Covid-19, and other infections.
How serious is Hashimoto’s disease?
Hashimoto’s disease may not present problems right away. However, if hypothyroidism develops and goes untreated, it can lead to serious side effects.
Some of these side effects may include:
- Giving birth to a baby with birth defects
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Myxedema, which can lead to heart failure, coma, and death
These complications, as well as less serious side effects of Hashimoto’s disease, can be avoided with treatment. When treated, someone with Hashimoto’s can live a long and healthy life.
Symptoms of Hashimoto’s Disease
Some people with Hashimoto’s disease may not experience any symptoms early on. In addition, at first, they may have symptoms of hyperthyroidism, such as rapid or irregular heartbeat, nervousness or irritability, weight loss, and shaky hands.
However, as the thyroid gland becomes more damaged, people typically develop hypothyroidism and begin to show symptoms. Symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
- Weight gain
- Trouble tolerating cold
- Joint and muscle pain
- Dry skin
- Hair loss
- Heavy or irregular menstrual periods
- Fertility problems
- Slowed heart rate
What does a Hashimoto’s attack feel like?
If you have hypothyroidism from Hashimoto’s disease, you may experience an attack or flare-up. This could occur before being diagnosed and treated, if you’re not taking the right dosage of medication, or if something is interfering with your medication. During an attack, you may experience symptoms of hypothyroidism, such as fatigue, joint, and muscle pain, slowed heart rate, or depression.
If you are experiencing symptoms, talk to your doctor about what may be causing it and if they believe altering your treatment plan may be necessary.
How Is Hashimoto’s Diagnosed
To diagnose Hashimoto’s disease, doctors will perform a regular physical, discuss symptoms and family history, and perform blood tests. They will check for an enlarged thyroid gland and the presence of antibodies in the blood.
Hashimoto’s most commonly affects women, who are typically diagnosed between the ages of 30 and 50. However, it can affect men and women at any age.
Is Hashimoto’s genetic?
Genetic factors play a role in the development of Hashimoto’s disease. Researchers have linked several genes to disease occurrence, progression, and severity. According to data, children and siblings of someone with Hashimoto’s have an increased risk of developing the disease by 32-fold and 21-fold, respectively.
However, Hashimoto’s isn’t purely genetic. Environmental factors, such as chemical exposure and iodine intake, and biological factors, such as sex and age, also play a role. For instance, Hashimoto’s is four to ten times more prevalent in females than males.
Hashimoto’s Disease Treatment
The most common treatment for Hashimoto’s disease that has progressed to hypothyroidism is the thyroid hormone replacement drug, levothyroxine. Levothyroxine replaces the thyroid hormone the body lacks in the presence of hypothyroidism.
If Hashimoto’s disease hasn’t progressed to hypothyroidism and thyroid hormone levels are normal, no treatment is necessary.
Can you manage Hashimoto’s without medication?
Researchers are continuing to test new treatments for Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and ways to support thyroid health. These include supplements, such as selenium, vitamin B12, and vitamin D. However, more clinical trials are necessary to deem the effectiveness of supplementation on Hashimoto’s and an underactive thyroid. If you’re interested in alternative treatment options, talk to your doctor about what may work for you.
Additionally, a healthy diet can help support thyroid health and may help manage symptoms. One study followed patients with Hashimoto’s before and after the implementation of an Autoimmune Protocol dietary approach. In it, patients experienced significantly lower symptom burdens and higher quality of life scores after implementing the paleolithic-style diet.
Can Hashimoto’s Be Cured
There is no cure for Hashimoto’s disease, but with proper diet and medication, it is manageable. Talk to your doctor about the best treatment plan for your condition. They may recommend lifestyle interventions, medication, and supplements. With the right approach, you can experience relief from symptoms and prevent health complications associated with an underactive thyroid.
If you are taking medication for an underactive thyroid, reach out to your pharmacist with any questions.
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