Hashimoto’s disease is a disease that affects the thyroid gland. It is also called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis, or autoimmune thyroiditis.
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. As a result, the thyroid gland becomes inflamed and hypothyroidism can develop.
Hypothyroidism is a disorder that occurs when the thyroid gland doesn’t make enough thyroid hormones to meet the body’s needs. The thyroid gland isn’t making enough hormones because the body’s immune system has attacked and damaged it.
Thyroid hormones regulate metabolism, which is how the body turns food into energy. Without an adequate amount of energy, the body cannot operate normally and the body’s functions begin to slow down.
Hashimoto’s disease is the most common cause of hypothyroidism in the United States.
Some patients may not have any symptoms at first. As the disease slowly progresses, the thyroid gland will become enlarged (a condition called goiter), creating a feeling of fullness in the throat. Goiter is often the first sign of Hashimoto’s disease. Other symptoms that develop over time include:
Consuming too much iodine can trigger hypothyroidism in patients who have Hashimoto’s disease but don’t have any symptoms of the disease. High iodine levels could be obtained by consuming iodine-containing supplements or eating large quantities of iodine-containing foods, such as kelp and seaweed.
First, your healthcare provider will take your medical history and perform a physical exam. He or she will feel your thyroid gland to determine if it is enlarged. Blood tests are also ordered. These include:
Imaging tests that may be ordered include ultrasound and a CT scan. The ultrasound shows the size of the thyroid and reveals the presence of any nodules or growths. The CT scan shows additional details about the size of the goiter and the health of the surrounding tissue.
Not everyone with Hashimoto’s disease has hypothyroidism. When this is the case, some healthcare providers may choose to simply monitor the patient’s condition, watching for any changes in the condition.
If hypothyroidism is present, usual treatment is a man-made form of thyroid hormone called levothyroxine (Synthroid®, Tirosint®, Levoxyl®, Levothroid®, Unithroid®, Novothyrox®). This drug restores the normal function of the thyroid. It must be taken daily for the rest of the patient’s life. Blood tests are routinely ordered to adjust the dose to make sure that the hypothyroidism is kept under control.
If left untreated, hypothyroidism caused by Hashimoto’s disease can lead to some serious complications including:
In most cases, hypothyroidism can remain well controlled as long as the patient takes his or her daily medication and gets blood tests to adjust the dosage as instructed by their healthcare provider.
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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 10/23/2017