Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is thought to be the most common cause of hypothyroidism but usually goes undetected. About 1 in 1,000 people will be diagnosed with this autoimmune condition, but it is much more common. Of this group, women are significantly more likely to have Hashimoto’s, and it is most common between the ages of 45 and 65. As this condition affects millions, it is important to understand what it is, causes and symptoms, and what to do if you think you may be suffering from Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.
What is Hashimoto’s?
Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is an autoimmune condition that involves the production of thyroid antibodies that attack thyroid gland proteins resulting in inflammation, damage to the thyroid, and reduced hormone production. Eventually, if untreated, the thyroid can become too damaged to produce appropriate hormone levels resulting in severe hypothyroidism.
Early-stage Hashimoto’s may present little to no symptoms. However, as the thyroid continues to be destroyed, symptoms can escalate. It is common for Hashimoto’s patients to alternate between hypothyroid and hyperthyroid states, causing a wide range of symptoms. Symptoms can include:
- Goiters or swelling of the thyroid
Because of the vague nature of the symptoms, Hashimoto’s is frequently misdiagnosed as depression, bipolar disorder, PMS, chronic fatigue syndrome, Fibromyalgia, or an anxiety disorder.
Causes of Hashimoto’s
Possible causes of Hashimoto’s include:
- Genetics: There is evidence of a genetic component with Hashimoto’s as people who suffer from Hashimoto’s often have family members who have thyroid disease or other autoimmune diseases.
- Hormone levels: Hashimoto’s affects about seven times as many women as men, suggesting that sex hormones may play a role.
- High levels of iodine: Research suggests that excessive levels of iodine, a trace element required by your body to make thyroid hormones, may trigger thyroid disease in susceptible people.
- Heavy metal exposure: Commonly found in toiletries like deodorant, over-the-counter medications, food additives, cookware, and more aluminum oxidizes the thyroid, inhibits iodide uptake, limits thyroid hormone production, and can mislead the immune system to attack the thyroid.
Studies show that most cases of Hashimoto’s cannot be detected by blood work—only the worst of the worst test positive. Thyroid hormone lab tests such as the TSH, Free T4, Free T3, and Reverse T3 can diagnose hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism, but to get a clear picture of potential autoimmune thyroid disease, you must check for increased antibodies that are specific to thyroid proteins. These include thyroid peroxidase (TPO) and antithyroglobulin; however, it’s important to know that these antibodies can be at normal levels and a patient still have Hashimoto’s disease. It can also be useful to check levels of thyroid-stimulating immunoglobulin (TSI), which can be seen in Graves’ disease, another autoimmune thyroid disorder.
If lab tests or symptoms indicate Hashimoto’s, it is important to begin treatment as soon as possible to help avoid further damage to the thyroid gland. In addition to thyroid hormone replacement therapy, the following treatment options should be explored:
- Supplements such as selenium can help lower antibody levels while strengthening the immune system.
- Treatment of any chronic bacterial or viral infections can also be important in managing autoimmune thyroid disease. Often, these infections can initiate immune system dysfunction.
- Regulating the immune system can make a very positive difference in autoimmune disorders like Hashimoto’s. Medications including low-dose Naltrexone and gamma-globulin can help balance immune system activity and reduce attacks.
Getting the Care That You Deserve
The violent swings of Hashimoto’s disease can be very frightening, not only for the patient who has the autoimmune disease. At Holtorf Medical Group, our physicians are trained to provide you with cutting-edge testing and innovative treatments to properly diagnose and treat your autoimmune thyroid disease, optimize your health, and improve your quality of life. If you have been diagnosed with Hashimoto’s but aren’t getting the treatment you need or if you have symptoms associated with thyroid dysfunction, contact us to see how we can help you!