What is Hashimoto’s disease?

Hashimoto’s disease affects the thyroid gland. It’s also called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis or autoimmune thyroiditis. The thyroid gland makes hormones that control virtually all of the body’s metabolic functions (how the body turns food into energy) and keep it working normally. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is a type of autoimmune disease — your immune system doesn’t recognize your thyroid as your own and attacks it.

Hashimoto’s disease is common and affects about five people in 100 in the United States.

What is hypothyroidism?

Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism happens when the thyroid gland doesn’t make enough thyroid hormones to meet the body’s needs because its immune system has damaged it.

Thyroid hormones regulate metabolism, which is how you turn food into energy. Without enough energy, your body cannot operate normally and its functions begin to slow down.

How does hypothyroidism affect your body?

Hypothyroidism can affect you in ways that can be hard emotionally and physically. For example:

  • When your metabolism slows due to hypothyroidism, you eventually gain weight, feel tired more often and have little energy.
  • You can experience fuzzy thinking and memory problems (hypothyroidism is often misdiagnosed as depression).
  • Women can develop menstrual irregularity and change in flow, and find it harder to become pregnant.
  • You may be increasingly constipated (trouble having a bowel movement), have heartburn and other digestive problems.
  • Hypothyroidism can also lead to sexual dysfunction in both men and women.

A slow metabolism can affect almost every part of your body, with effects mild to severe.

Who is most likely to develop Hashimoto’s disease?

Hashimoto’s disease:

  • Is more common in women than men.
  • Commonly appears between the ages of 30 and 50.
  • Tends to run in families (hereditary).
  • Is more likely to develop in people who have other autoimmune diseases, like certain liver conditions, B12 deficiency, gluten sensitivity, rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, lupus and Addison’s disease (an adrenal gland condition).

What causes Hashimoto’s disease?

Hashimoto’s disease is an autoimmune disease, which means the body’s immune system is attacking its own cells and organs. Normally, the immune system protects the body against infections caused by bacteria, viruses and other harmful substances.

In Hashimoto’s disease, the immune system makes antibodies that attack and damage the thyroid tissue. As a result, the thyroid gland becomes inflamed and the ability to make thyroid hormone becomes damaged, eventually leading to hypothyroidism.

What are the symptoms of Hashimoto’s disease?

Some people may not have any symptoms at first. As the disease slowly progresses, the thyroid gland becomes enlarged (a condition called a goiter). A goiter is a common first sign of Hashimoto’s disease. A goiter is painless, but can create a feeling of fullness in the throat, and can make the front of your neck look swollen.

Other symptoms of Hashimoto’s disease that develop over time include:

  • Tiredness (fatigue).
  • Weight gain.
  • Feeling cold.
  • Joint stiffness and muscle pain.
  • Constipation (trouble having a bowel movement).
  • Depression.
  • Puffy eyes/face.
  • Dry skin.
  • Thinning hair/hair loss.
  • Heavy or irregular periods.
  • Difficulty becoming pregnant.
  • Memory problems/difficulty thinking or concentrating.
  • Slow heartbeat.

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