Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disease that attacks the thyroid, the small butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of the neck that is responsible for monitoring your metabolism along with a few specific hormones. In the United States alone, 14 million people currently have Hashimoto’s, making it the most common thyroid disorder in the country, according to The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists.
Inflammation of the thyroid from Hashimoto’s disease, also known as chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis, often leads to an underactive thyroid gland, or hypothyroidism, which can cause major health issues throughout the body. Hashimoto’s disease primarily affects middle-aged women (women are seven times more likely to develop the disorder), although it can occur in men and women of all ages, including children.
Common symptoms of Hashimoto’s include:
- Fatigue and sluggishness
- Hair loss
- Increased sensitivity to cold
- Pale, dry skin
- Face puffiness
- Brittle nails
- Enlargement of the tongue
- Unexplained weight gain
- Muscle aches, tenderness, and stiffness
- Joint pain and stiffness
- Muscle weakness
- Excessive or prolonged menstrual bleeding
- Depression and mental illness
- Memory lapses
If left untreated, it can cause health issues including infertility, miscarriages, giving birth to a baby with birth defects, and high cholesterol. In rare cases, a severe underactive thyroid, called myxedema, can lead to heart failure, seizures, coma, and even death; so it’s important to regularly get your thyroid checked by your doctor for any potential issues.
Like many other autoimmune disorders, Hashimoto’s has no known cause. Some medical experts think a virus or bacterium might trigger the immune system to attack the thyroid, while others believe a genetic flaw may be involved.
Most researchers agree, at the very least, that a combination of factors, such as heredity, biological sex, radiation exposure, age, and preexisting health conditions may determine your likelihood of developing the disorder.
Depending on the condition of the thyroid, your treatment may vary. In cases where your doctor observes there is no hormone deficiency and that your thyroid is still functioning normally, they may hold off from prescribing any medication. In other cases where medication is required, it is likely that you will require medication for the rest of your life. In cases where Hashimoto’s disease causes thyroid hormone deficiency, you may require a daily dose of the synthetic thyroid hormone levothyroxine (Levoxyl, Synthroid, others). Synthetic levothyroxine is identical to thyroxine, the natural version of this hormone made by your thyroid gland. The oral medication restores adequate hormone levels and reverses all the symptoms of hypothyroidism.