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Hashimotos Disease: 6 Things to Know

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Model Gigi Hadid usually makes headlines for her runway looks, but she recently landed in the spotlight after revealing her battle with Hashimotos disease.

Millions of Americans live with this common autoimmune disorder, which can have widespread symptoms including changes in body weight, fatigue and increased sensitivity to cold.

Dr.Tanton, an endocrinologist at Florida Hospital, weighs in with six important things to know about Hashimotos disease.

Hashimotos disease is an autoimmune disorder of the thyroid.

The thyroid, a butterfly-shaped gland that sits in the throat just below the Adams apple, is one of the bodys most important organs. When working properly, it produces hormones that help regulate the bodys metabolism, growth and development, mood and more.

Hashimotos disease develops when the immune system mistakenly attacks and inflames the thyroid, disrupting its ability to produce those vital hormones. This can have serious, far-reaching effects on the bodys functions.

Many of the bodys systems are controlled, in some way, by the thyroid, states Dr. Tanton. As such, proper functioning of this gland is essential to an overall sense of well-being.

Hashimotos is the most common thyroid disorder in the U.S.

Thyroid diseases, in general, are common, affecting millions of Americans each year. Underactive thyroid diseases, like Hashimotos, affect around 1 in 20 Americans, while overactive thyroid diseases occur in about 1 in 100.

While we do not know, exactly, what triggers this autoimmune attack, we do have simple blood tests that can diagnose Hashimotos, says Dr. Tanton. The thyroid stimulating hormone [TSH] and thyroid peroxidase antibodies [TPO Ab] are two labs that can help detect this process while it is still early in its development.

Women are much more likely to have Hashimotos disease than men.

Despite the prevalence of Hashimotos, doctors are unsure of its exact cause. However, there are a few factors that increase a persons likelihood of developing Hashimotos first and foremost, being a woman.

Dr. Tanton: For some reason, women are much more vulnerable to all autoimmune diseases, including Hashimotos. Our endocrinologists are, therefore, on high-alert and screen frequently, especially when female patients complain of typical hypothyroid symptoms.

Other risk factors for Hashimotos include:

  • Age (middle age is when most Hashimotos patients are diagnosed)
  • Exposure to radiation
  • Family history of autoimmune diseases
  • Having another autoimmune disease

Its symptoms can be very easy to overlook

Rather than an illness or sudden onset of symptoms, Hashimotos disease usually takes years to progress. Symptoms are wide-ranging and tend to come on gradually, which can make them easy to miss or confuse with other conditions.

Common symptoms include:

  • Feeling tired or sluggish
  • Increased sensitivity to cold
  • Brittle fingernails and hair loss
  • Constipation
  • Pale skin
  • Swelling of the tongue
  • Puffy face
  • Weakness and muscle aches
  • Unexplained weight gain
  • Long and excessive menstruation
  • Joint pain
  • Depression
  • Memory lapses

Unfortunately, many of the above symptoms are both non-specific [can be caused by many different conditions] and subtle, so early Hashimotos is often missed, states Dr. Tanton.
Having a combination of these symptoms can be a strong indicator of Hashimotos disease, but a blood test measuring thyroid function is needed to make a formal diagnosis.

Quick treatment of Hashimotos disease can reverse its symptoms. 

Upon diagnosis of Hashimotos, many patients will begin taking a synthetic hormone medication to rebalance their hormone levels. There is no cure for Hashimotos, but when the disease is caught early and treated quickly, a patient may be relieved of most or all of the symptoms.

Dr. Tanton: Fortunately, the body cannot differentiate between native thyroid hormone [as produced by a normal functioning gland] and an appropriate dose of synthetic hormone. As such, all thyroid-dependent functions should return to normal with full replacement.

Patients who require medication will likely need to continue treatment indefinitely to ensure their thyroid function remains healthy. In very rare cases, the thyroid may need to be surgically removed, especially if the gland is extremely large and cause problems swallowing or breathing.

If Hashimotos is left untreated, complications can be life-threatening.

Because the hormones produced by the thyroid are so vital to the bodys functions, untreated Hashimotos can lead to serious and even life-threatening complications. These include:

  • Goiter (an enlarged thyroid that causes a visible swelling of the throat)
  • High cholesterol
  • Heart disease
  • Depression and other mental health issues
  • Birth defects in babies born to women with long-term, untreated Hashimotos
  • Myxedema, a rare and potentially fatal coma

If you suspect you might have Hashimotos disease, schedule an appointment with your general physician to discuss your symptoms. If a blood test reveals Hashimotos, your doctor will quickly help put you on a path to relief and healing.

The good news is that Hashimotos can be detected early [with TSH and TPO Ab] and treated completely [with synthetic hormone replacement], says Dr. Tanton. It is, therefore, very important to undergo a thorough evaluation by a hormone specialist [endocrinologist] if you believe that you may have this condition.

If youre interested in finding out more about Hashimotos disease or other thyroid conditions, visit our website or call (855) 303-DOCS.

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