Hashimoto's disease, also known as chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis, is a disorder that affects your thyroid. Your immune system attacks the thyroid gland, causing inflammation that often leads to an under-active thyroid gland. Most commonly in the United States, this disorder is the cause of hypothyroidism.
Usually, slowly, over a number of years the disease progresses and causes chronic damage. This damage leads to a drop in thyroid hormone levels in the blood.
Signs and symptoms vary widely and are not unique to Hashimoto's disease. In the beginning, slight symptoms seen as fatigue and sluggishness may go unnoticed or attributed to aging. However, as the disease progresses, more obvious signs and symptoms may develop such as:
increased sensitivity to cold
pale, dry skin
elevated cholesterol level
unexplained weight gain
muscle aches and stiffness, especially in shoulder & hip areas
pain and stiffness in your joints
swelling of the knees or small joint areas in your hands and feet
muscle weakness, especially to lower extremities
excessive or prolonged menstrual bleeding
Without treatment, the symptoms become more severe and the thyroid gland may enlarge. Also, as time passes without treatment, you may become forgetful or your thought process may slow down.
Doctors aren't sure what causes Hashimoto's disease, but some scientists believe a virus or bacterium may be a trigger. Others believe a genetic flaw may be involved in the cause. Since Hashimoto's disease is most common in middle-aged women and tends to run in families, heredity, sex, and age may be determining factors of your likelihood of developing this disorder.
Left untreated, Hashimoto's disease can lead to other health problems such as:
Goiter. Constant urging of the thyroid to release more hormones can cause the gland to enlarge, which is called a goiter. Generally goiters are not uncomfortable but can interfere with breathing or swallowing. Also goiters can affect your appearance negatively.
Heart Problems. Because high levels of bad cholesterol can occur, Hashimoto's disease can be associated with an increased risk of heart disease.
Mental Health Issues. Depression can occur and become more severe over time.
Myxedema. A rare, life-threatening condition can develop as a result of untreated Hashimoto's disease. Signs and symptoms of myxedema are intense cold intolerance and drowsiness that is followed by profound lethargy and unconsciousness which can lead to a coma. This condition requires immediate emergency medical care.
Birth Defects. Babies born to mothers with untreated Hashimoto's disease have a higher risk of birth defects, such as cleft palate. Also these children are more likely to have intellectual and developmental problems. Heart, brain, and kidney problems may also occur.
A diagnosis of Hashimoto's disease is based on your signs and symptoms, as well as, results of blood tests such as a hormone and antibody tests.
Treatment for Hashimoto's disease usually includes observation and medications. Your doctor may suggest waiting to begin treatment if there is no evidence of hormone deficiency and normal functioning of your thyroid.
If you have thyroid hormone deficiency, treatment will involve daily use of a replacement hormone.
Soon after starting the oral medication, you will notice a feeling of less fatigue because the hormone levels will be restored to adequate levels. The medication will also gradually lower cholesterol levels and reverse any weight that was gained.
You should see your doctor if you are feeling tired for an unknown reason or have any other possible symptoms to get an appropriate diagnosis and proper treatment if necessary.