Hashimoto’s disease damages your thyroid function. It’s also called chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis, or just chronic thyroiditis. In the U.S., Hashimoto’s is the most common cause of hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid).
Your thyroid releases hormones that regulate your metabolism, body temperature, muscle strength, and many other functions of the body.
Hashimoto’s disease is an autoimmune disorder. The condition creates antibodies that attack the cells of the thyroid. Doctors do not know why this happens, but some scientists believe genetic factors may be involved.
The cause of Hashimoto’s disease is not known. However, several risk factors have been identified for the disease. It is 7 times more likely to occur in women than men, especially women who have been pregnant. Your risk may also be higher if you have a family history of autoimmune diseases, including:
- Graves’ disease
- type 1 diabetes
- rheumatoid arthritis
- Addison’s disease
Symptoms of Hashimoto’s are not unique to the disease. Instead, it causes the symptoms of an underactive thyroid. Signs that your thyroid isn’t working properly include:
- dry, pale skin
- hoarse voice
- high cholesterol
- lower body muscle weakness
- feeling sluggish
- cold intolerance
- thinning hair
- irregular or heavy periods
- problems with fertility
You may have Hashimoto’s for many years before you experience any symptoms. The disease can progress for a long time before it causes noticeable thyroid damage.
Some people with this condition develop an enlarged thyroid. Known as a goiter, this may cause the front of your neck to become swollen. A goiter rarely causes any pain. However, it may make swallowing difficult, or cause your throat feel full.
Your doctor may suspect this condition if you have the symptoms of an underactive thyroid. If so, they’ll check your thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels with a blood test. This common test is one of the best ways to screen for Hashimoto’s. TSH hormone levels are high when thyroid activity is low because the body is working hard to stimulate the thyroid gland to produce more t
Not all people with Hashimoto’s need treatment. If your thyroid is functioning normally, your doctor may just want to monitor you for changes.
If your thyroid isn’t producing enough hormones, you may need medication. Levothyroxine is a synthetic hormone that replaces the missing thyroid hormone thyroxine. It has virtually no side effects. If you need this drug, you’ll likely be on it for the rest of your life.
Regular use of levothyroxine can return your thyroid hormone levels to normal. When this happens, your symptoms will usually disappear. However, you’ll probably need regular tests to monitor your hormone levels. This allows your doctor to adjust your dose as necessary.
Your doctor may also use blood tests to check your levels of:
- other thyroid hormones
These tests can help confirm your diagnosis.
If left untreated, Hashimoto’s disease can cause complications, some of which can be severe. These can include:
- heart problems, including heart failure
- confusion and loss of consciousness
- high cholesterol
- decreased libido