Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is a disorder of the thyroid that is believed to be caused by a combination of environmental and genetic factors, some of which are unknown. Sufferers of this condition have white blood cells (lymphocytes) that accumulate in the thyroid, damaging the thyroid cells. When too many cells die or are damaged, the thyroid function is hindered making it unable to produce sufficient hormones for the regulation of bodily functions. In some patients, no symptoms are present; however, others may develop pernicious anemia, Addison’s disease, multiple sclerosis, vitiglio, type 1 diabetes, and/or rheumatoid arthritis.
What causes Hashimoto’s thyroiditis?
The exact causes are unknown, but several factors are believed to be involved, it is thought that it may also be genetic. Non-genetic factors that have been identified include hormone imbalances, especially in women, where approximately seven times as many women are affected by Hashimoto’s than men. Additionally, some women may develop thyroid problems after giving birth. Occasionally, these problems will resolve after birth, however, approximately 20% of women who had thyroid trouble post-partum develop Hashimoto’s.
Other non-genetic factors include certain medications, over-consumption of iodine, and viral infections. Radiation exposure can also be a factor – people who have received radiation treatment for Hodgkin’s disease are known to have a higher risk of developing Hashimoto’s, as are people who were affected by the nuclear accident at Chernobyl and by the atomic explosions in Japan during World War II.
Symptoms of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
Symptoms can take years to develop, and once developed, may take a long time to become chronic. Often, the first indication that something is wrong is the presence of a goiter, which indicates that thyroid enlargement. Your neck may appear swollen, and you may develop other symptoms of an underactive thyroid, including:
- Puffy face
- Weight gain
- Muscle pain
- Heavy or irregular menstrual periods
- Joint pain
- Persistent tiredness
- Slow heart rate
- Thinning hair
It is important to note that many of these symptoms can also indicate a variety of other conditions and therefore diagnosis must be made by a doctor or specialist.
How is Hashimoto’s thyroiditis treated?
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is a chronic disorder of which there is no cure. Instead, it is a condition that you and your doctor will work together to manage over the course of your life. As with most thyroid problems, the goal will be to restore the proper balance of hormones in your body. Depending on your sex, age, weight, and the presence of other medical conditions, your doctor will help you to identify the exact dose that will be required to manage the condition; thyroid hormone replacement therapy is taken as a daily tablet. Once receiving treatment the goiter may take time to shrink and symptoms should gradually resolve as the body becomes accustom to the new balance of hormones. Rarely, if medical management is not effective, then the removal of the thyroid gland may be needed, for patients with an enlarged thyroid gland that is causing compression symptoms.