If your Hashimoto’s is left untreated, a number of health issues can develop.
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What is Hashimoto's Thyroiditis?
The thyroid gland is a part of the endocrine system and produces thyroid hormones, which control multiple functions in the body. Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune condition whereby the immune system attacks the thyroid gland. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis often causes the thyroid gland to malfunction, leading to hypothyroidism.
Hashimoto’s disease generally affects women who are middle aged; however, it can also affect males and females of any age.
Risk Factors for Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis
Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disorder. Autoimmune diseases happen when the immune system begins attacking the body. In Hashimoto’s, lymphocytes begin accumulating in the thyroid gland which causes damage. The lymphocytes create antibodies that begin damaging thyroid cells and destroying them. As more and more cells are destroyed, the thyroid gland can no longer keep up with the demands of the body.
- Sex – Adult females are at an increased risk of developing Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
- Age – Typically, Hashimoto’s disease is diagnosed during middle age; however, it can also occur at any age.
- Other Autoimmune Diseases – Individuals who have an autoimmune disease are at an increased risk of developing other autoimmune disorders. Therefore, if you have another autoimmune disorder like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, type 1 diabetes, pernicious anemia, or multiple sclerosis, you are at an increased risk of developing Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
- Heredity – Genetics can also increase the risk of Hashimoto’s. Individuals with family members who have been diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis are at an increased risk of developing this autoimmune disease.
- Other Factors – Several non-genetic factors can increase your risk. These include hormonal changes, viral infections, and certain medications. Those who eat large amounts of meat, consume excess iodine, or have been exposed to ionizing radiation are also at an increased risk of developing Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
Symptoms of Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis
In the beginning, you may not experience any symptoms. Oftentimes, the first symptom most people notice is a goiter. A goiter occurs when the thyroid gland is not producing enough thyroid hormones. The brain sends signals to the thyroid gland demanding it to make more, which causes the thyroid to grow to keep up with the demand.
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis often progresses slowly. It can take years for the autoimmune disease to be diagnosed. Chronic thyroid damage can cause your thyroid hormones to decline, resulting in an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism).
When your thyroid hormones begin to decline, this can cause a plethora of symptoms, including:
- Memory lapses
- Muscle pain, stiffness, or tenderness
- Pale skin
- Puffy face
- Tongue enlargement
- Weight gain
Issues Related to Hashimoto’s
- Birth Defects – Babies who are born to women with undiagnosed and untreated Hashimoto’s disease are at an increased risk of developing birth defects. In addition, these children may have developmental delays/issues and intellectual issues. Finally, the risk of cleft palate increases in mother’s who have untreated hypothyroidism.
- Cardiovascular Problems – If hypothyroidism is left untreated, this can increase bad cholesterol levels. Those with hypothyroidism can suffer from an enlarged heart that could lead to heart failure.
- Goiter – A goiter is an enlargement of the thyroid gland caused by constant stimulation. Typically, goiters do not cause any issues; however, if they grow large, they can interfere with breathing or swallowing. This can also alter one’s appearance.
- Mental Health Issues – Hashimoto Thyroiditis can slow down mental functioning, resulting in mood swings, and an increased risk of developing depression. If left untreated, depression and mood swings can become severe.
- Myxedema – Myxedema occurs when Hashimoto’s disease remains untreated for an extended period of time. This life threatening condition can lead to severe fatigue, unconsciousness, and even death. It is believed that cold temperatures, stress, sedatives, and infections can trigger this dangerous condition.
When Should You See a Doctor?
If you notice a bulge in your throat around your Adam’s apple, this can be an indication of thyroiditis. If you are experiencing tiredness for no apparent reason, constipation, a puffy, pale face, and dry skin, you should contact your doctor.
If you have had radiation treatment around your upper chest, neck, or head, thyroid surgery, or treatment using either anti-thyroid medicine or radioactive iodine, you should have your thyroid hormones periodically checked. Finally, if you have high cholesterol levels, ask your doctor if it could be caused by hypothyroidism.
Diagnosing Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of hypothyroidism, your integrative practitioner will order a series of blood tests that measure the amount of thyroid hormones in your body. These tests include:
A thyroid blood test is ordered to determine the amount of thyroid stimulating hormones and thyroid hormones in the body.
This test looks for abnormal antibodies in the blood.
Your provider may also want to order imaging tests like an ultrasound to ensure your thyroid gland is healthy and functioning properly. This test will look for any irregularities or growths that could be causing your symptoms.
Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis Treatment Options
Treating Hashimoto’s depends on the severity of the disease. Often thyroid hormone replacement can help the thyroid gland keep up with the needs of the body. As hormone levels are restored, the symptoms of hypothyroidism are reversed or minimized.
Hashimoto’s disease causes a host of unpleasant symptoms. If this autoimmune disorder is left untreated, it can cause permanent damage to your body. Our team of functional medicine clinicians will provide you with guidance to help heal your thyroid gland and reverse the effects of hashimoto’s thyroiditis and hypothyroidism.
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