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Hashimoto's Thyroiditis

What is Hashimoto's thyroiditis?

Thyroiditis is when your thyroid gland becomes irritated. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is the most common type of this health problem. It is an autoimmune disease. It occurs when your body makes antibodies that attack the cells in your thyroid. The thyroid then can’t make enough of the thyroid hormone. Many people with this problem have an underactive thyroid gland. That’s also known as hypothyroidism. They have to take medicine to keep their thyroid hormone levels normal.

What is the cause of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis?

Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is an autoimmune disorder. Normally, your autoimmune system protects your body by attacking bacteria and viruses. But with this disease, your immune system attacks your thyroid gland by mistake. Your thyroid then can’t make enough thyroid hormone, so your body can’t work as well.

Who is at risk for Hashimoto’s thyroiditis?

Things that may make it more likely to you for to get Hashimoto’s thyroiditis are:

  • Being a woman. Women are about 7 times more likely to have the disease. Hashimoto's thyroiditis sometimes begins during pregnancy.
  • Middle age. Most cases happen between 40 to 60 years of age. But it has been seen in younger people.
  • Heredity. The disease tends to run in families. But no gene has been found that carries it.
  • Autoimmune diseases. These health problems raise a person’s risk. Some examples are rheumatoid arthritis and type 1 diabetes. Having this type of thyroiditis puts you at higher risk for other autoimmune illnesses.

What are the symptoms of Hashimoto's thyroiditis?

Each person’s symptoms may vary. Symptoms may include:

Goiter

This is an enlargement of your thyroid gland. It causes a bulge on your neck. It is not cancer. But it can cause problems like pain or trouble with swallowing, breathing, or speaking.

Underactive thyroid

When your thyroid doesn’t make enough thyroid hormone, it can cause these symptoms:

  • Tiredness
  • Muscle weakness
  • Weight gain
  • Being cold bothers you
  • Depression
  • Hair and skin changes

Overactive thyroid

When the thyroid is attacked by antibodies, it may at first make more thyroid hormone. This is called Hashitoxicosis. It does not happen to everyone. But it can cause these symptoms: 

  • Being hot bothers you
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Weight loss
  • Tremors
  • Anxiety

These symptoms may look like other health problems. Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is Hashimoto thyroiditis diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your medical history and give you a physical exam. You will also have blood tests. These can measure your thyroid hormone levels and check for some antibodies to proteins in the thyroid.

How is Hashimoto's thyroiditis treated?

Your healthcare provider will figure out the best treatment for you based on:

  • Your age, overall health, and medical history
  • How sick you are
  • How well you handle certain medicines, treatments, or therapies
  • If your condition is expected to get worse
  • Your opinion or preference

You will not need treatment if your thyroid hormone levels are normal. But Hashimoto's thyroiditis often looks like an underactive thyroid gland. If so, it can be treated with medicine. The medicine replaces lost thyroid hormone. That should stop your symptoms. It can also ease a goiter if you have one. A goiter can cause problems like pain or trouble swallowing, breathing, or speaking. If these symptoms don’t get better, you may need surgery to remove the goiter.

When should I call my healthcare provider?

Tell your healthcare provider if your symptoms get worse or you have new symptoms.

Key points about Hashimoto’s thyroiditis

  • Hashimoto's thyroiditis can cause your thyroid to not make enough thyroid hormone.
  • It is an autoimmune disease. It occurs when your body makes antibodies that attack the cells in your thyroid.
  • Symptoms may include an enlarged thyroid gland (goiter), tiredness, weight gain, and muscle weakness.
  • You don’t need treatment if your thyroid hormone levels are normal. If you have an underactive thyroid, medicine can help.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:

  • Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.
  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
  • Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells you.
  • At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you.
  • Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how it will help you. Also know what the side effects are.
  • Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.
  • Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
  • Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
  • If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
  • Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.
Online Medical Reviewer: Berry, Judith, PhD, APRN
Online Medical Reviewer: Hurd, Robert, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 9/1/2016
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