Thyroiditis is an inflammation (not an infection) of the thyroid gland. Several types of thyroiditis exist, and the treatment is different for each.
Hashimoto’s disease damages your thyroid function. It is also called chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis or just chronic thyroiditis. Hashimoto’s is the most common cause of hypothyroidism, an underactive thyroid.
The thyroid releases hormones that regulate your metabolism, body temperature, and muscle strength.
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, also called autoimmune or chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis, is the most common type of thyroiditis. It is named after the Japanese physician, Hakaru Hashimoto, who first described it in 1912.
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is the most common cause of hypothyroidism. Learn about the basics of hypothyroidism in our hypothyroidism slideshow.
The thyroid gland is always enlarged in Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, although only one side may be enlarged enough to feel.
During the course of this disease, the cells of the thyroid becomes inefficient in converting iodine into thyroid hormone and “compensate” by enlarging (for a review of this process see our thyroid function page).
The radioactive iodine uptake may be paradoxically high while the patient is hypothyroid because the gland retains the ability to take-up or “trap” iodine even after it has lost its ability to produce thyroid hormone.
As the disease progresses, the TSH increases since the pituitary is trying to induce the thyroid to make more hormone, the T4 falls since the thyroid can’t make it, and the patient becomes hypothyroid.
This sequence of events can occur over a relatively short span of a few weeks or may take several years.
What Is the Cause of Hashimoto’s Disease?
Hashimoto’s disease is an autoimmune disorder. The antibodies in your body attack the cells of the thyroid. Doctors do not know why this happens. Some scientists think genetic factors may be involved.
Am I at Risk for Developing Hashimoto’s Disease?
The cause of Hashimoto’s disease is not known. However, several risk factors have been identified for the disease
. It is seven times more likely to occur in women than men, especially women who have been pregnant. Your risk may also be higher if you have a family history of autoimmune diseases, such as:
- Graves’ disease
- type 1 diabetes
- rheumatoid arthritis
- Addison’s disease
What Are the Symptoms of Hashimoto’s Disease?
Hashimoto’s symptoms are not unique to the disease. Instead, it causes the symptoms of an underactive thyroid. Signs that your thyroid isn’t working properly include:
- dry, pale skin
- hoarse voice
- high cholesterol
- lower body muscle weakness
- feeling sluggish
- cold intolerance
- thinning hair
- irregular or heavy periods
- problems with fertility
You may have Hashimoto’s for many years before you have any symptoms. The disease can progress for a long time before it causes noticeable damage.
Some people with this condition develop an enlarged thyroid.
Known as a goiter, this may cause the front of your neck to look swollen. A goiter rarely causes any pain. However, it may make your throat feel full or swallowing difficult.
Hashimoto’s Disease Diagnosis
Your doctor may suspect this condition if you have the symptoms of an underactive thyroid. If so, a blood test will be used to check your thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels.
This common test is one of the best ways to screen for Hashimoto’s. TSH is a hormone made when thyroid activity is low.
Your doctor may also use blood tests to check your levels of:
- thyroid hormone
These tests can help confirm your diagnosis
Treatment should begin with thyroid hormone replacement. This prevents or corrects the hypothyroidism, and it also generally keeps the gland from getting larger.
In most cases, the thyroid gland will decrease in size once thyroid hormone replacement is started.
Thyroid antibodies are present in 95% of patients with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and serve as a useful “marker” in identifying the disease without thyroid biopsy or surgery.
Thyroid antibodies may remain for years after the disease has been adequately treated and the patient is on thyroid hormone replacement.
Complications Related to Hashimoto’s Disease
If left untreated, Hashimoto’s disease can cause complications. These include:
- heart problems, including heart failure
- high cholesterol
- decreased libido
Hashimoto’s can also cause problems during pregnancy. Recent research from Johns Hopkins suggests that women with this condition are more likely to give birth to babies with heart, brain, and kidney defects.
This is true even when their thyroid function tests are normal during pregnancy.