What is Hashimoto's disease?

Hashimoto’s disease, also known as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis, or autoimmune thyroiditis, is a disease that affects your thyroid gland, a butterfly-shaped gland in your neck that controls how your body uses energy. 

The role of thyroid hormones in Hashimoto’s disease

If you have Hashimoto’s, then your immune system attacks your thyroid causing damage to it and it’s then unable to produce the thyroid hormones, thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). T4 is responsible for your mood, metabolism and regulating body temperature. T3 is a key player in your digestive and metabolic function and also plays a role in your bone health. 

If your T4 and T3 levels are too high, you may experience anxiety, hyperactivity, missed periods, irritability, sweating, and shaking. This happens when you have an overactive thyroid or hyperthyroidism.

Yet, with Hashimoto's, it’s the opposite, where your thyroid is not producing enough T4 and T3, resulting in weight gain, memory issues, brain fog, and fatigue. 

One of the main drivers behind the release of T4 and T3 is called the thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), which is produced in the pituitary gland. When TSH levels are high, it means that your thyroid is not producing enough T4 and T3. This is because TSH is supposed to stimulate your thyroid and make hormones, and when the thyroid isn’t responding to stimulation, you’re left with too much TSH and not enough hormones. When TSH levels are low, that means there’s too much of T4 and T3 because the thyroid is working overtime.  

Testing and risk factors

If you have symptoms of Hashimoto’s, then you can go to the doctors and get an initial TSH level blood test. From there, there are many other tests offered by the American Thyroid Association to narrow down your diagnosis. These tests combined with a thyroid ultrasound or biopsy could help your health provider diagnose you. 

Some risk factors to pay attention to are sex, radiation exposure, age, and other autoimmune diseases. Hashimoto’s is most commonly found in middle-aged women, but if you suffer from other autoimmune diseases like type 1 diabetes or lupus, it will increase your chances of getting Hashimoto’s. 

Hashimoto’s is also a hereditary disease, so if it runs in your family, it may be a good idea to get a TSH level blood test as you approach middle age, so you can catch the disease early. 

If you suspect you may have something wrong with your thyroid, or you just feel off, then go to the doctor as soon as you can. Leaving Hashimoto’s disease untreated can result in goiters, which are big lumps on your neck as a result of an overstimulated thyroid. You also may be left with heart problems because high levels of LDL cholesterol, aka the "bad" cholesterol, are found in Hashimoto’s patients and that can lead to heart failure. Lastly, you may suffer from myxedema, a coma that occurs when your body’s functions slow down too much. 

Treatments and helping out your thyroid

Treatment for Hashimoto’s looks like replacing your hormones with a synthetic dose to return everything back to normal. For patients with Hashimoto’s, they are given a daily dose of synthetic levothyroxine, which operates the same way that T4 operates, so usually this approach reverses all hypothyroidism symptoms. 

Other things that may help your thyroid in the long run include stress management, eating well, and exercising regularly. There is a link between your adrenal health and your thyroid health, so try to focus on de-stressing by meditating, doing yoga or anything else that calms you down. 

Hashimoto’s disease can sound scary and daunting, but catching it early and utilizing treatment can help your body return back to its normal function in no time. 

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