Hashimoto’s thyroiditis affects approximately 14 million American adults each year. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is an autoimmune disorder whereby a malfunction of the immune system causes inflammation of the thyroid gland. Oftentimes sufferers may have the condition for years without experiencing any symptoms of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or perhaps having mild symptoms but not linking them to a thyroid condition.
What is Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis?
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis also known as chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis or Hashimoto’s disease occurs when antibodies and immune cells damage the thyroid gland and decrease the thyroid gland’s ability to produce thyroid hormone. If the thyroid gland cannot make enough thyroid hormone, hypothyroidism will occur. Also, a person’s thyroid gland can enlarge and form a goiter.
Causes and Risk Factors
Hashimoto’s disease is due to a problem with the immune system. A proper functioning immune system protects the body against foreign invaders including bacteria, viruses, and foreign substances. In the case of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, the immune system mistakenly sees thyroid cells as foreign invaders and begins making antibodies to destroy those cells.
There are several things that can increase your risk of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, including:
- Female – Women are more likely to develop Hashimoto’s diseases than men.
- Family History – A family history of Hashimoto’s increases your risk.
- Excess Iodine – Too much iodine consumption can increase the risk of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
- Radiation Exposure – If you have been exposed to radiation, your risk of developing antibodies to your thyroid gland increases.
Symptoms of Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis
Because individuals may not experience any symptoms or mild ones for several years, this disease can remain undiagnosed until a person either develops a goiter (enlarged thyroid gland) or has bloodwork drawn revealing abnormal thyroid testing. When symptoms do occur, they are generally rooted in low thyroid hormone levels or having pressure from an enlarged thyroid.
Oftentimes, the first sign of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is painless, swelling of the thyroid gland, often referred to as a goiter. The thyroid gland is found in the front of the neck, below the larynx. The enlargement (goiter) places pressure on the surrounding tissues, causing swallowing difficulties, breathing difficulties, and a raspy voice.
As Hashimoto’s thyroiditis continues, this may cause hypothyroidism. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is an autoimmune disease that affects every area of the body. The severity of Hashimoto’s symptoms depends upon the level of thyroid hormone deficiency. Some of the most common symptoms of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis include the following:
- Brain Fog and Memory Loss – Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism affects the brain and can cause a number of brain related symptoms, including memory loss and brain fog. Other neurological symptoms include dementia and confusion. Typically, these symptoms are reversible with effective treatment.
- Constipation – The body that underproduces thyroid hormone will overall slow down. Even the muscles of the digestive tract that help stool pass will become more sluggish. Hypothyroidism weakens these muscle contractions, which decreases bowel movements and causes constipation.
- Dry Skin – When thyroid hormone production slows down, body processes are altered. The skin may develop fine lines and wrinkles or become scaly with deep cracks.
- Fatigue – Individuals with Hashimoto’s may experience excess fatigue with the desire for more sleep and to take naps. It may beth difficult to get up in the morning.
- Feeling Cold – Your thyroid gland helps control body temperature and is like the body’s generator. Without enough thyroid hormones, the body temperature drops. A person with Hashimoto’s disease may also notice sweating less.
- Fluid Retention – Hashimoto’s thyroiditis causes swelling, puffiness, and fluid retention, known as edema. Oftentimes, swelling occurs in the face, around the eyes, and within the hands and feet.
- Hair Loss – Hashimoto’s can cause diffuse hair loss. This type of hair loss is called autoimmune alopecia. Hair loss is often reversible once thyroid hormones are normalized.
- Infertility – Women with Hashimoto’s disease are at an increased risk of infertility, making it difficult to become pregnant. Altered thyroid hormone levels affect ovulation and some women with hypothyroidism do not ovulate which allows an egg to release for fertilization.
- Irregular, Prolonged, or Excessive Menstrual Bleeding – Thyroid issues can affect menstrual cycles. Periods may be heavier than normal or the cycle becomes irregular.
- Non-Specific Aches and Stiffness in Joints and Muscles – A poorly functioning thyroid gland can cause systemic inflammation. This leads to stiffness and pain in the joints and muscles.
- Puffy Face – The hypothyroidism that occurs with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis slows vital body functions. The voice may become hoarse, facial expressions dulled, eyelids may droop, and the face can become puffy.
- Slow Heart Rate – Thyroid hormones affect heart rate. With decreased thyroid hormones the heart may beat between ten and twenty beats per minute lower than normal.
- Thinning or Brittle Hair – Hashimoto’s can affect the scalp with a decrease of oxygen flow. This decrease in blood flow can cause hair thinning or brittle hair.
- Weight Gain – A person with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis often experiences weight gain. This weight gain can be caused by bloating from an altered electrolyte balance or by a mere slowing of metabolism.
Holistic Treatment for Hashimoto’s
Our clinicians adopt a holistic approach to treating Hashimoto’s thyroiditis using a combination of supplements, diet or lifestyle changes, and medications, if needed, with the goal to reduce the effects of autoimmune disorders on your body. In certain cases, you may need thyroid hormone replacement which provides the body with the thyroid hormones it needs to maintain proper health. Our team of providers will closely monitor your thyroid levels as too much or too little thyroid hormones can cause a host of medical issues.