Learn more about the symptoms and treatment of this cause of thyroid gland inflammation.
Hashimoto's disease is a condition in which your immune system attacks your thyroid, a small gland at the base of your neck below your Adam's apple. The thyroid gland is part of your endocrine system, which produces hormones that coordinate many of your body's functions.
Inflammation from Hashimoto's disease, also known as chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis, often leads to an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism). Hashimoto's disease is the most common cause of hypothyroidism. It primarily affects middle-aged women but can also occur in men and women of any age and in children.
Doctors test your thyroid function to help detect Hashimoto's disease. Treatment of Hashimoto's disease with thyroid hormone replacement usually is simple and effective.
You might not notice signs or symptoms of Hashimoto's disease at first, or you may notice a swelling at the front of your throat (goiter). Hashimoto's disease typically progresses slowly over years and causes chronic thyroid damage, leading to a drop in thyroid hormone levels in your blood. The signs and symptoms are mainly those of an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism).
Signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
See your doctor if you develop these signs and symptoms:
You'll also need to see your doctor for periodic testing of your thyroid function if:
If you have high blood cholesterol, talk to your doctor about whether hypothyroidism may be a cause.
And if you're receiving hormone therapy for hypothyroidism caused by Hashimoto's disease, schedule follow-up visits as often as your doctor recommends. It's important to make sure you're receiving the correct dose of medicine. Over time, the dose you need to adequately replace your thyroid function may change.
Hashimoto's disease is an autoimmune disorder in which your immune system creates antibodies that damage your thyroid gland. Doctors don't know what causes your immune system to attack your thyroid gland. Some scientists think a virus or bacterium might trigger the response, while others believe a genetic flaw may be involved.
A combination of factors — including heredity, sex and age — may determine your likelihood of developing the disorder.
These factors may contribute to your risk of developing Hashimoto's disease:
Left untreated, an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism) caused by Hashimoto's disease can lead to a number of health problems:
Myxedema (miks-uh-DEE-muh). This rare, life-threatening condition can develop due to long-term severe hypothyroidism as a result of untreated Hashimoto's disease. Its signs and symptoms include drowsiness followed by profound lethargy and unconsciousness.
A myxedema coma may be triggered by exposure to cold, sedatives, infection or other stress on your body. Myxedema requires immediate emergency medical treatment.
Birth defects. Babies born to women with untreated hypothyroidism due to Hashimoto's disease may have a higher risk of birth defects than do babies born to healthy mothers. Doctors have long known that these children are more prone to intellectual and developmental problems. There may be a link between hypothyroid pregnancies and birth defects, such as a cleft palate.
A connection also exists between hypothyroid pregnancies and heart, brain and kidney problems in infants. If you're planning to get pregnant or if you're in early pregnancy, be sure to have your thyroid level checked.
In general, your doctor may test for Hashimoto's disease if you're feeling increasingly tired or sluggish, have dry skin, constipation, and a hoarse voice, or have had previous thyroid problems or a goiter.
Diagnosis of Hashimoto's disease is based on your signs and symptoms and the results of blood tests that measure levels of thyroid hormone and thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) produced in the pituitary gland. These may include:
In the past, doctors weren't able to detect an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), the main indicator of Hashimoto's disease, until symptoms were fairly advanced. But by using the sensitive TSH test, doctors can diagnose thyroid disorders much earlier, often before you experience symptoms.
Because the TSH test is the best screening test, your doctor will likely check TSH first and follow with a thyroid hormone test if needed. TSH tests also play an important role in managing hypothyroidism. These tests also help your doctor determine the right dosage of medication, both initially and over time.
Treatment for Hashimoto's disease may include observation and use of medications. If there's no evidence of hormone deficiency, and your thyroid is functioning normally, your doctor may suggest a wait-and-see approach. If you need medication, chances are you'll need it for the rest of your life.
If Hashimoto's disease causes thyroid hormone deficiency, you may need replacement therapy with thyroid hormone. This usually involves daily use of the synthetic thyroid hormone levothyroxine (Levoxyl, Synthroid, others).
Synthetic levothyroxine is identical to thyroxine, the natural version of this hormone made by your thyroid gland. The oral medication restores adequate hormone levels and reverses all the symptoms of hypothyroidism.
To determine the right dosage of levothyroxine initially, your doctor generally checks your level of TSH after six to eight weeks of treatment and again after any dose changes. Once the dose that normalizes your thyroid tests is determined, your doctor is likely to check your TSH level about every 12 months as the dosage you need may change. Excessive amounts of thyroid hormone can accelerate bone loss, which may make osteoporosis worse or add to your risk of this disease. Overtreatment with levothyroxine can also cause heart rhythm disorders (arrhythmias).
If you have coronary artery disease or severe hypothyroidism, your doctor may start treatment with a smaller amount of medication and gradually increase the dosage. Progressive hormone replacement allows your heart to adjust to the increase in metabolism.
Levothyroxine causes virtually no side effects when used in the appropriate dose and is relatively inexpensive. If you change brands, let your doctor know to ensure you're still receiving the right dosage.
Also, don't skip doses or stop taking the drug. If you do, signs and symptoms will gradually return.
Certain medications, supplements and some foods may affect your ability to absorb levothyroxine. However, taking levothyroxine four hours before or after other medications could remedy the problem. Talk to your doctor if you eat large amounts of soy products or a high-fiber diet or if you take any of the following:
Levothyroxine is the synthetic form of the natural T-4. T-4 is converted into T-3 in the body. While most people are treated successfully with levothyroxine alone, some people don't feel completely normal on levothyroxine.
Researchers have investigated whether adjusting standard hypothyroidism treatment to replace some T-4 with small amounts of T-3 may offer benefit. But, the majority of studies have determined that the addition of T-3 does not offer any advantage over treatment with T-4 alone.
There is some evidence that T-3 may offer benefit to certain subsets of people, such as people who have had their thyroid surgically removed (thyroidectomy). Research is ongoing.
T-3 can be given alone as liothyronine (Cytomel) or in combination with T-4. Taking a combination T-4 and T-3 ends up producing higher than normal levels of T-3, especially soon after the medication is taken. This can cause a fast heart rate, anxiety and trouble sleeping.
But, for those who haven't gotten enough relief from T-4 alone, adding liothyronine to standard levothyroxine treatment for a three- to six-month trial is a long enough period to see if the combination helps you.
Standard treatment for Hashimoto's disease is levothyroxine, the synthetic form of thyroxine (T-4). However, extracts are available that contain thyroid hormone derived from the thyroid glands of pigs. These products — Armour Thyroid, for example — contain both levothyroxine and triiodothyronine (T-3).
Doctors have a number of concerns about thyroid hormone extracts such as Armour Thyroid, including:
You're likely to start by seeing your primary care doctor. Your doctor may refer you to a specialist called an endocrinologist.
Here's some information to help you prepare for your appointment and to know what to expect from your doctor.
Create a list of questions so that you can make the most of your time with your doctor. For Hashimoto's disease, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
Don't hesitate to ask other questions that occur to you.
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions, such as:
June 17th, 2020