Hashimoto’s disease, or Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, is an autoimmune disorder which damages the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland is part of the endocrine system, which produces hormones that coordinate different functions of the body. It is the most common cause of hypothyroidism which affects more women than men.
Inflammation from Hashimoto’s disease, known as chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis, leads to an underactive thyroid gland called hypothyroidism. Without adequate thyroid hormones, many functions of your body slow down.
Hashimoto’s disease develops gradually over years and causes chronic thyroid damage which leads to a drop in thyroid hormone levels in the blood. However, its signs and symptoms are largely those of an underactive thyroid gland which include;
- Fatigue and sluggishness
- Increased sensitivity to cold
- Pale, dry skin
- A puffy face
- Brittle nails
- Hair loss
- Enlargement of the tongue
- Unexplained weight gain
- Muscle aches, tenderness, and stiffness
- Joint pain and stiffness
- Muscle weakness
- Excessive or prolonged menstrual bleeding (menorrhagia)
- Memory Lapses
It is an autoimmune disease in which your immune system produces antibodies which damage your thyroid gland. However, the exact cause of Hashimoto’s disease is not known. Some researchers believe a bacterium or virus might generate the response, while others think a genetic error may be involved. Moreover, it tends to occur in families.
Hence, a combination of factors, counting heredity, age, and sex, may determine your chance of developing the disease. Here are some risk factors which may contribute to your likelihood of developing Hashimoto’s disease;
- Sex; women are much more likely to get this disease.
- Age; this autoimmune disorder can occur at any age but more commonly occurs during middle age.
- Heredity; if others in your family have thyroid or any other autoimmune disorder then you are at higher risk for Hashimoto’s disease.
- Other autoimmune diseases; having any other autoimmune disease, like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus or type 1 diabetes, increases your risk of developing Hashimoto’s disease.
- Radiation exposure; those who are exposed to excessive levels of environmental radiation are more susceptible to Hashimoto’s disease.
Left untreated, an underactive thyroid gland caused by Hashimoto’s disease which can lead to many health problems;
- Goiter; constant thyroid stimulation to release more hormones cause the gland to become inflamed, a condition called goiter. One of the most common causes of goiters is hypothyroidism. Though generally not painful, a large goiter may interfere with swallowing or breathing and can also affect your appearance.
- Heart problems; Hashimoto’s disease may also be associated with increased heart disease risk. Mainly, because high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol can occur in individuals with an underactive thyroid gland. If left untreated, hypothyroidism can result in an enlarged heart and, probably, heart failure.
- Mental health issues; depression and anxiety may occur early in Hashimoto’s disease which may become severe over time. In addition, Hashimoto’s disease can even cause sexual desire to decrease in both women and men. It can also lead to slowed mental functioning.
- Myxedema; it is rare, life-threatening condition which can develop due to long-term hypothyroidism because of untreated Hashimoto’s disease. Therefore, its symptoms include drowsiness followed by lethargy and unconsciousness.
- Birth defects; babies born to women with untreated hypothyroidism because of Hashimoto’s disease may have a higher risk of birth flaws than babies born to healthy mothers. Furthermore, these children are more disposed to intellectual and developmental problems.
Furthermore, there is also a connection between hypothyroid pregnancies and heart, brain and kidney problems in babies. Hence, if you are planning to get pregnant or if you are in early pregnancy, make sure to have your thyroid level checked.