This autoimmune disease is also known as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and it affects the thyroid, which is a small gland in the front of the neck that makes hormones called T3 and T4 to regulate how the body uses energy.

When an individual has Hashimoto’s disease, their immune system produces antibodies that damage thyroid cells and interfere with their ability to make T3 and T4 hormones. In the long term, this damage to the thyroid will result in an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) and extremely low T3 and T4 levels. This will cause every function of the body to slow down.

Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is the most common cause of hypothyroidism in Australia and, according to endocrinesurgery.net.au, occurs in about five percent of the adult Australian population.

Symptoms


A goiter (enlarged thyroid) is the first sign that you may have Hashimoto’s disease, yet some people with the disease will not show symptoms for many years. Although painless, the goiter will cause a feeling of fullness in your neck and swallowing is usually difficult. The symptoms will worsen over time and may include the following:

    • Sluggishness and fatigue

    • Voice changes, such as persistent hoarseness

    • Constipation

    • Increase and unexplained weight gain

    • Elevated blood cholesterol levels

    • Pale and puffy face

    • Feeling cold

    • Pain in the joints and muscles

    • Swelling in the knees or small joints in hands and feet

    • Hair that is thinning and dry

    • Excessive or prolonged menstrual bleeding

    • Cognitive changes, such as depression or forgetfulness

    • A slowed heart rate

    • Problems getting pregnant



Who’s at risk?


The disease has been shown to occur between the fourth and sixth decades of life and is about seven times more likely to affect women than men. Research shows that people who get it usually have other autoimmune diseases such as vitiligo rheumatoid arthritis, type-1 diabetes and lupus. Ask your doctor about your chances of Hashimoto’s if you suffer from an existing autoimmune disease.

Causes


Although the exact cause of this disease remains unknown, there are a number of factors which experts believe play a role in the cause of Hashimoto’s disease. These include:

Genes


Those affected usually have family with other autoimmune diseases or thyroid disease.

Too much iodine and certain drugs


These are believed to trigger the onset of thyroid disease.

Radiation


Reports have shown that people exposed to radiation are at an increased risk. Some studies also found this true in survivors of Hiroshima’s atomic bomb and in the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl.

Gender


Experts are convinced that sex hormones are a contributing factor, as more women than men are affected by the disease.

Pregnancy


Research shows that woman have thyroid problem after pregnancy

Diagnosis


Your doctor will almost always assess symptoms that are common in hypothyroidism and may then proceed to conduct one or more of the following tests:

    • A neck examination to feel for irregularities and swelling.

    • Take a detailed history of family members.

    • Do blood tests to determine the amount of hormones produced by your thyroid and pituitary glands.



Treating Hashimoto’s disease


Your doctor will prescribe medication to help regulate hormone levels and restore normal metabolism, and the dosage can depend on the following factor:

    • Your age

    • What you weigh

    • How severe you hypothyroidism is

    • Any previous or existing health problems

    • Whether you are on chronic medicines that affect treatment



There is no cure for this disease and, once you start treatment, your doctor will conduct more tests to check your thyroid function. Thyroid hormones are slow-acting and so they will take a few months for symptoms to disappear and for the goiter to shrink. Where there is no improvement in the case of a large goiter, the thyroid gland might have to be surgically removed.

Remember, although painless, an enlarged thyroid should be examined by your doctor. As with all diseases, early detection helps with treatment.

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