Hashimoto’s disease affects the thyroid, causing it to produce less thyroid hormone than the body needs. Your body creates an autoimmune response, directing antibodies toward the thyroid gland, which is located at the base of your neck. This immune reaction causes inflammation in the gland and a gradual reduction in hormone production.
Hashimoto’s is the most common cause of hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) and tends to run in families, so it may have a genetic link. Some doctors believe it may be connected to a viral or bacterial response, or environmental exposure to certain chemicals. Middle-aged women are the most likely people to be diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease, but it can affect people of any age or gender.
Hashimoto’s usually affects your thyroid gland very slowly. You might not notice symptoms right away, and they may come on so gradually that you don’t seek medical assistance. However, Hashimoto’s can cause chronic damage if left untreated, so it is a good idea to talk to your doctor if you experience any symptoms of hypothyroidism.
Fatigue and exhaustion, constipation, unexplained weight gain, joint stiffness, muscle aches, dry skin and increased sensitivity to cold. Some people also develop a puffy face and hands because of fluid retention, and women might have issues with excessive bleeding during menstruation.
People suffering from depression should also get their thyroid function checked, as a drop in hormones caused by Hashimoto’s can lead to mental and emotional dysfunction as well.
Hashimoto’s disease is caused by an autoimmune issue. The patient’s immune system begins to produce antibodies that then attack the thyroid gland and damage it. Some doctors think that this is triggered by a bacterial infection, while others attribute it to a genetic flaw. No one is entirely sure what causes your body to attack itself like this.
There are, however, certain risk factors that make you more prone to Hashimoto’s disease.
Autoimmune disorders are typically chronic, but can flare with aggravating factors like stress, certain foods, exhaustion, etc. Hashimoto’s is the same, so if you have the risk factors listed above, be aware of the signs and let your doctor know of any symptoms of Hashimoto’s developing.
Your doctor can determine if your thyroid hormone production is low with a blood test. To determine if the cause of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto’s disease, your doctor may ask you to get an ultrasound or CT scan, which can show swelling and other patterns of autoimmune inflammation in the thyroid gland.
To treat the symptoms of Hashimoto’s disease, you might be prescribed synthetic thyroid hormone to supplement your own thyroid gland’s production. It can take some time to find the best dosage for your situation. Once you begin taking this medication, you’ll often have to take it for the rest of your life.
Unfortunately, there is no real method for preventing Hashimoto’s disease, since doctors don’t know what causes it. This makes it especially important that you know the symptoms and report any that you find to your doctor. Hashimoto’s disease is treatable, so if you think you might be suffering from it, don’t do so in silence – get medical help.
If Hashimoto’s is caught early, it may not develop into hypothyroidism – in which case, your doctor may choose to simply monitor your health and see if it worsens. If it does, there are medications that can help supplement the loss of hormones your thyroid would otherwise produce.
Overall, regular visits to your doctor and notifying him if you begin having signs of hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s disease is your best chance at prevention and/or treatment.