What Is Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis?
Thyroiditis is an inflammation or swelling of the thyroid gland, a small, butterfly-shaped gland in the front of your neck.
There are several different types of thyroiditis, including silent, painless, and postpartum thyroiditis, but today we’re talking about Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
According to research from EndocrineWeb, 14 million Americans have been diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
This makes it not only the most common form of thyroiditis, but the most common thyroid disorder, period.
Named after the Japanese doctor who first discovered it in 1912, Hashimoto’s disease is an autoimmune condition where your immune system views your thyroid as a foreign invader and attacks it.
This generally leads to an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism), which can disrupt your hormone levels.
Symptoms of Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis generally progresses slowly, and as a result you may not recognize any symptoms at first.
When symptoms do show up, they may gradually creep up on you, making them difficult to detect.
Because Hashimoto’s disease is an autoimmune attack on your thyroid, symptoms are often consistent with hypothyroidism, and may include:
• Unexplained weight gain
• Depression, anxiety, or other mood disorders
• Sensitivity to temperatures (especially cold)
• Chronic fatigue
• Constipation or other digestive issues
• Muscle weakness
• Pale, dry, or puffy skin
• Memory loss
• Excessive or prolonged menstrual bleeding
• Brittle nails
• Problems with vision
• Hair loss
• Joint stiffness
• Goiter (a growth on your neck)
If you’re a keen observer, you may notice that these symptoms are common in many other disorders as well, which makes Hashimoto’s disease a notoriously difficult disorder to diagnose.
If you believe you may be suffering from Hashimoto’s disease, speak with your naturopathic doctor or other qualified healthcare practitioner.
What Causes Hashimoto’s Disease?
The reason why your body produces antibodies to attack its own thyroid gland is not yet fully understood.
However, there are a number of factors which have been known to play a role.
Hormones are one factor.
Because Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is seven times as common for women as it is for men, sex hormones may have something to do with it.
There is also a connection between Hashimoto’s and pregnancy, with some women developing thyroid problems after having a baby.
Genetic factors may also play a role.
Those who have Hashimoto’s commonly have family members who also suffer with some sort of thyroid disorder or autoimmune disease.
Research also suggests a connection between iodine levels in the blood and Hashimoto’s.
Finally, radiation exposure can have an influence as well.
Hashimoto’s has been reported in elevated levels in those who lived in Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the atomic bombs were dropped and in or near Chernobyl.
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis can also be a side effect of the radiation treatment for Hodgkin’s disease (a form of blood cancer).
Risk Factors For Hashimoto’s Disease
There are a number of different risk factors for Hashimoto’s disease.
The above mentioned (hormones, genetics, iodine, and radiation) notwithstanding, here are some of the other risk factors.
Sex – As mentioned before, women are far more likely to deal with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis than men, for reasons we don’t fully understand.
Age – Hashimoto’s most commonly affects women in their 40’s and 50’s.
It occurs in women in their 60’s as well, but because its symptoms closely mirror those of menopause, it’s likely under-diagnosed.
Other autoimmune diseases – like rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, and lupus, for example.
Complications From Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is a treatable condition.
However, if left untreated, it can lead to a number of significant health problems.
This can include an increased risk of heart disease.
Because high levels of LDL, commonly known as “bad cholesterol” are common in people with an underactive thyroid, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis can lead to heart issues, and in extreme cases, heart failure altogether.
Depression is also a common complication, which can become more severe over time.
Myxedema is a rare condition sometimes associated with hypothyroidism.
Drowsiness, lethargy, and fits of unconsciousness are common symptoms of myxedema, which can sometimes be fatal.
Babies born to those with untreated Hashimoto’s disease have a higher rate of birth defects, including intellectual and developmental issues, and issues with the kidneys, brain, and heart.
Treating Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis
One effective way of treating Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is through diet.
The autoimmune paleo diet was developed in order to remove all foods that could possibly trigger an inflammatory reaction in the body.
I’ve had success in using the autoimmune paleo diet to treat patients with a number of different autoimmune conditions, including thyroid disorders.