Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is an autoimmune disease that causes an irritated and inflamed thyroid gland. This disease happens when the immune system begins making antibodies and begins to attack your thyroid. When this occurs, the thyroid can no longer produce the amount of thyroid hormone your body needs, resulting in hypothyroidism.
What Causes Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis?
Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disease. Your immune system is designed to activate and attack harmful viruses and bacteria. With Hashimoto’s, the immune system mistakes your thyroid gland as harmful and begins attacking it. When this occurs, the thyroid becomes inflamed and cannot create enough thyroid hormone for your body, causing a host of symptoms.
What Are the Risk Factors for Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis?
There are several things that can0 increase your risk of developing Hashimoto’s disease, including:
- Age – Although it can be seen in young individuals, Hashimoto’s typically occurs in individuals who are between the ages of 40 and 60 years old.
- Autoimmune Diseases – Having an autoimmune disease increases the likelihood of developing Hashimoto’s disease.
- Genetics – Hashimoto’s disease is often seen in families although researchers have not been able to find one particular gene that carries the autoimmune thyroid disease.
- Sex – Women are much more likely to develop Hashimoto’s disease than men are. Additionally, this autoimmune thyroid disorder may begin during pregnancy.
What Are the Side Effects of Hashimoto’s Disease?
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is a chronic autoimmune disorder that progresses over several years. The damage to your thyroid gland causes a reduced amount of thyroid hormone in your blood. In the beginning, you may not experience any symptoms or signs; however, over time, numerous symptoms can begin to appear.
Cold intolerance is another side effect of Hashimoto’s disease. When your thyroid does not produce an ample amount of thyroid hormone, you may experience diminished blood flow to your extremities, resulting in cold hands and feet. Additionally, your basal metabolic rate (how many calories it takes to maintain life [respiration, heartbeat, digestion, etc.] while resting) and decreased body temperature. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis can cause the heart to slow down, which decreases blood flow to the extremities.
Your thyroid hormones affect every system and organ in the body. It also impacts how your body uses energy. When your thyroid gland does not make enough thyroid hormones, systems including the digestive system begin to slow down. Typically, the muscles in the digestive tract contract and relax to move stool through the digestive tract. Reduced thyroid function slows down the frequency and strength of those muscle contractions, resulting in constipation.
Depression affects millions of Americans each year. One cause of depression is a malfunctioning thyroid gland. The symptoms of depression include a loss of interest in activities, a significant reduction in the enjoyment of life, and a depressed mood. Antithyroid antibodies have been associated with a number of mood disorders, including clinical depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and schizophrenia.
Low thyroid levels can cause eyebrow hair loss. Oftentimes, this is one of the first signs that your thyroid is not functioning properly. Typically, you will lose the last third of your eyebrow (the part closest to your temple). In the beginning, the hair may begin to thin; however, soon, you will notice the last third of your eyebrow will be very sparse or completely free of hair.
Facial swelling is often seen in Hashimoto’s patients (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11888493/). Although the swelling can occur all over your face, it typically occurs around the eyes. The swelling is typically worse in the early morning hours and reduces throughout the day. Using cold compresses and getting a facial massage can help clear puffiness.
Thyroid dysfunction also affects your nails. Your nails may develop an abnormal nail shape or abnormal color. It can also cause the nail to have an abnormal attachment to the nail bed. If you are experiencing splitting or peeling nails, ridges in your nails, excessively dry cuticles, or ongoing hangnails, your thyroid may not be functioning properly.
Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of an underactive thyroid gland. This is not like the tiredness that you experience after a poor night’s sleep. Instead, it is extreme exhaustion that can interfere with your day to day activities. You may be unable to get through the day without taking a nap, you may need more sleep than usual, or you may fall asleep very quickly at bedtime.
Hashimoto’s has been associated with a number of cognitive issues, including memory issues. Researchers have discovered that low thyroid hormone levels can affect the areas of our brains where memories and cognitive skills reside. When your thyroid levels decline, you may experience brain fog and other forms of forgetfulness.
Patients with Hashimoto’s disease often have a weakened immune system. This decrease in immunity increases the risk of fungal infections and low grade rashes. These rashes often occur in the skin folds of the body and cause a burning red rash that can easily be treated with topical antifungal ointments or creams.
A goiter is simply an enlargement of the thyroid gland. As the disease progresses and the thyroid gland can no longer produce the necessary thyroid hormone needed for optimal health, the thyroid gland begins to grow to try to counteract the reduced output of thyroid hormone. Goiters cause a bulge on your neck. Although goiters are benign, they can cause a number of problems like difficulty speaking, breathing, or swallowing. As they continue to grow, you may also experience pain.
Hair loss is a common symptom of a thyroid issue. Hashimoto’s disease can cause three types of hair loss. First, you may experience diffuse hair loss. This type of hair loss is the most common form of hair loss. You may notice hair in the shower, on your pillow, or on your clothing. Diffuse hair loss causes thinning over all of your head. Androgenetic alopecia has been associated with changes in testosterone levels. This type of hair loss typically occurs around your temples and the crown of your head. Alopecia areata is autoimmune hair loss that causes discrete circles or patches of hair loss.
Women who have been diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis are at an increased risk of experiencing infertility. When your thyroid does not produce enough hormones, it can interfere with your ovaries and prevent the release of an egg during ovulation. Luckily once your hormone levels have been corrected, your infertility should reverse, and you should be able to become pregnant.
Irregular Menstrual Periods
Your thyroid gland is a tiny gland that affects so many different systems in your body, including your reproductive system. When thyroid hormones begin to decrease, your body begins producing other hormones which can affect ovarian function and lead to irregular menstrual periods. Women may experience heavier than normal periods, absent periods, and irregular periods.
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis can also cause muscle weakness, cramping, and aching. Hypothyroidism can cause weakness in the muscles in your body. (https://www.mda.org/disease/endocrine-myopathies/types/hyperthyroid-hypothyroid-myopathy) Most often your shoulder and thigh muscles are affected. When muscle weakness occurs, you can experience difficulty in climbing the stairs or brushing your hair.
Your thyroid gland and thyroid hormones regulate the mechanism that causes you to sweat. When your thyroid gland is not functioning properly, you will not sweat. You may think this is a good thing; however, sweating is one of the ways that the body eliminates toxins. If you do not sweat, then toxins will begin to accumulate in the body, causing a host of unpleasant symptoms both internally and externally.
There are several skin conditions associated with Hashimoto’s disease. Dry skin is one of the most common symptoms of low thyroid function. Dry skin often occurs on the back of your legs, your forearms, your back, and the back of your hands. You may notice that the skin on your knuckles becomes thicker. Finally, acne and rashes are common with hypothyroidism.
If you have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, you probably fight with your weight. Low thyroid function affects your metabolism due to the decline of your resting basal metabolic rate. Another reason you can experience weight gain with Hashimoto’s is systemic inflammation. When you have an autoimmune disease, the hormones in your body can become imbalanced. When this occurs, your adrenal glands activate and release cortisol into the body. Cortisol along with other hormones impacts how fat is stored in the body and how fast your body burns calories for energy, leading to excess weight gain.
How Functional Medicine Can Help
Finding the underlying root cause of your low thyroid levels will help you deal with the side effects of Hashimoto’s disease. Functional doctors understand that all systems in the body work together to promote good health. When one system is not functioning properly, it can impact all others.
Effectively managing Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and its side effects requires a doctor who takes the time to learn your medical history, your individual health, and lifestyle habits. Your unique genetics and hormone levels should also be taken into consideration. Specialized laboratory tests may be ordered, including blood tests to check your thyroid levels, vitamin and mineral deficiency tests, male and female hormone testing, and toxin testing.
There are several treatment options available to help improve your thyroid function. Your integrative doctor may recommend diet and nutritional improvements, stress relief techniques, and natural supportive supplements as well as natural thyroid replacements. Conventional synthetic hormone replacement may also be used. If you have hormone imbalances or vitamin and mineral imbalances, your functional thyroid doctor will work to help you correct these as well.