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Hashimoto's Thyroiditis Disorder: An Autoimmune Disease Affecting Thyroid Gland

Dr Rishika Agarwal 743 Views
Updated: 19 Dec 2023
Published: 19 Dec 2023

Also referred to as Hashimoto’s disease, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis disorder is an autoimmune disease that affects your thyroid gland, which is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located at the front of your neck. It is known for being one of the most prevalent causes of hypothyroidism, a disorder that causes an underproduction of the essential thyroid hormones. This adversely affects your body’s metabolism and results in a range of symptoms. Read on to learn all about the symptoms, causes and treatment of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis disorder.

Hashimoto's Thyroiditis Disorder: Symptoms

Hashimoto’s thyroiditis disorder doesn’t have any unique symptoms. Instead, it leads to the symptoms of hypothyroidism, also known as underactive thyroid. It’s possible to have Hashimoto’s disease for years without experiencing any symptoms. This condition can progress for a long time before causing any noticeable damage to the thyroid gland. The symptoms of thyroid damage include:

  • Dry and pale skin
  • Constipation
  • Hoarse voice
  • Depression
  • High cholesterol
  • Muscle weakness in the lower body
  • Feeling sluggish
  • Fatigue
  • Thinning hair
  • Intolerance to cold
  • Fertility issues
  • Heavy or irregular periods

Certain individuals with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis disorder develop an enlarged thyroid, which is called goitre and can make the front of your neck swell. Although it’s usually not painful, it can be a little tender to the touch and make swallowing difficult.

Hashimoto's Thyroiditis Disorder: Causes

Hashimoto’s thyroiditis disorder is an autoimmune condition, wherein the immune system produces antibodies that attack your thyroid cells like they were viruses, bacteria or another foreign body. This leads to the damage and death of thyroid cells. It is not yet understood what triggers the immune system to attack the thyroid gland. The onset of the condition may be related to:

  • Family history
  • Environmental stressors like radiation exposure or infection 
  • Interaction between genetic and environmental factors

Hashimoto's Thyroiditis Disorder: Risk factors

There are certain factors that can increase your risk of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis disorder. These include:

  • Family History: According to research, genetic factors can increase your chances of developing this disease by 80%. If one or more of your biological family members have this disease or any other thyroid disorder, then you are more susceptible to it.
  • Sex: The chances of developing Hashimoto’s thyroiditis disorder are 10 times higher in women than in men, in part due to the influence of sex hormones.
  • Age: As you age, you become more susceptible to developing this condition as well as other thyroid disorders.
  • Other Autoimmune Conditions: If you are suffering from another autoimmune condition like type 1 diabetes, lupus, or arthritis, then you are more likely to develop Hashimoto’s thyroiditis disorder.
  • Pregnancy: Usual changes in the immune function that occur during pregnancy may increase your chances of developing this autoimmune condition.
  • Radiation Exposure: Hashimoto’s thyroiditis disorder is more likely to develop in those who suffer exposure to excessive environmental radiation levels.
  • Increased Iodine Consumption: Excessive intake of iodine can serve as a trigger for those who are already at risk of developing this disease.

Hashimoto's Thyroiditis Disorder: Diagnosis

To begin, your doctor will inquire about your symptoms and medical history and perform a physical exam. Symptoms of hypothyroidism and an enlarged thyroid may cause your doctor to suspect Hashimoto’s thyroiditis disorder. To confirm the diagnosis, your doctor may order the following blood tests:

  • Thyroid-stimulating Hormone (TSH) Test: This test is done to determine TSH levels in your blood. A high level of TSH indicates that the thyroid gland isn’t releasing an adequate amount of thyroxine (T4) hormone, which means that you have hypothyroidism.
  • Free Thyroxine (T4) Test: This test is done to determine the levels of T4 in your blood. A low level of T4 indicates that you have an underactive thyroid or hypothyroidism.
  • Antithyroid Antibody Test: The presence of certain antibodies in the bloodstream can help confirm Hashimoto’s thyroiditis disorder as the cause of your hypothyroidism, as opposed to another reason, such as an iron deficiency.

Sometimes, your doctor may order a thyroid ultrasound to check your thyroid gland’s size and ensure that there are no growths (thyroid nodules) on it. 

Hashimoto's Thyroiditis Treatments

Not everyone suffering from Hashimoto’s thyroiditis disorder develops hypothyroidism. Those who have high antibody levels but aren’t suffering from clinical hypothyroidism will have to keep an eye on their thyroid levels rather than beginning treatment. However, if your Hashimoto’s thyroiditis disorder causes hypothyroidism, you will need medications. Levothyroxine is the gold standard for treating hypothyroidism. It is a synthetic hormone that makes up for the depleted thyroxine hormone levels. With virtually no side effects, levothyroxine can bring your thyroxine levels back to normal, when used regularly. This usually helps ease your symptoms, but you’ll still need regular tests to keep an eye on your thyroid hormone levels. This will help your doctor adjust your dose as and when necessary. However, once you start taking this drug, you will likely have to take it forever.

When undergoing treatment for hypothyroidism, it’s important to keep in mind that certain medications and supplements can interfere with the absorption of levothyroxine by the body. So, it’s crucial to inform your doctor about all other medications you’re on. Some products that are commonly known for interfering with levothyroxine absorption include:

Certain foods can also adversely affect your body’s ability to absorb this drug. So, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about adjusting your diet accordingly before you start taking levothyroxine.

In a Nutshell

Hashimoto’s thyroiditis disorder is an autoimmune disease that can result in an underactive thyroid, also known as hypothyroidism. If you are suffering from this condition, then you will have to keep in regular touch with your doctor. Your doctor will perform routine tests to ensure that your thyroid levels are in normal range and your current medication dose is right for you. With lifelong treatment and vigilant monitoring, the prognosis for those with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis disorder is excellent.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

  1. Is Hashimoto’s thyroiditis disorder curable?

    Answer:- No, it’s not possible to reverse or cure Hashimoto’s thyroiditis disorder. However, treatment can help manage the symptoms and maintain normal thyroid levels.

  2. Is Hashimoto’s thyroiditis disorder preventable?

    Answer:- No, you can’t do anything to prevent Hashimoto’s thyroiditis disorder. Its risk factors, like your age and genetics, are not modifiable.

  3. When should I see my doctor for Hashimoto’s thyroiditis disorder?

    Answer:-  Those suffering from Hashimoto’s thyroiditis disorder will have to stay in regular touch with their doctor. They’ll need frequent tests to keep an eye on thyroid hormone levels and to ensure the right medication dosage. It’s also necessary to consult with your doctor in case you experience any new or worsening symptoms.

  4. What are the complications of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis disorder?

    Answer:- When not treated, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis disorder can result in complications, which can range from mild to severe. These can include:

    Anaemia
    Heart issues like heart failure
    High cholesterol levels
    Loss of consciousness
    Confusion
    Depression
    Decreased libido

  5. What can cause flare-ups of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis disorder?

    Answer:- Some of the common cause behind Hashimoto’s thyroiditis disorder flare-ups include:

    Missing medication doses
    Incorrect doses of medication
    Lack of sleep
    A poor diet
    Infection
    Depression
    Anxiety

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