Your thyroid gland, located in your neck, is relatively small but has a big impact on your body’s functions. So it’s no surprise that if something goes wrong with it, it can have detrimental effects on your overall health.
You likely have never heard of Hashimoto’s Disease (chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis). However, supermodel Gigi Hadid revealed she suffers from the thyroid disease that causes the body’s immune system to attack your thyroid gland, causing inflammation and subsequently an underactive thyroid. This lack of production from your thyroid can have a variety of symptoms. Let’s look at 12 facts about this disease that affects thousands of Americans…
1. Exact Cause Isn’t Known
Hashimoto’s Disease is an autoimmune disease, a group of diseases that are still being studied. However, the basic premise is always that your body’s defense systems are somehow tricked into thinking healthy tissue is a threat, and turns against it.
The Mayo Clinic says that some scientists believe the trigger for this particular disease may be a virus or bacterial infection, and others believe there’s a genetic link. There could be other risk factors, which we’ll look more closely at next.
2. There are Risk Factors
While the exact cause of this disease hasn’t been pinpointed, there apparently have been some risk factors associated with chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis. For example, the Mayo Clinic notes that women are more likely to develop the disorder.
Surprisingly, middle-aged people are most at risk (although anyone at any age can have it), adds the source. Having another autoimmune disease like arthritis can also boost your chances of developing Hashimoto’s, as well as those who work in an environment where they’re exposed to environmental radiation.
3. There are Visible Symptoms
There are many possible symptoms of Hashimoto’s Disease, but some of them are more obvious than others. WebMD said that telltale signs could include weight gain, thinning hair, paleness, and facial puffiness.
One of the more alarming physical symptoms may be the development of a goiter, which is an enlarged thyroid that makes your throat look swollen. This can even interfere with normal functions like swallowing, adds the source.
4. There are Other Less Obvious Symptoms
While you may have some physical signs that you’re suffering from the disease, there is a host of ways it affects your overall well-being (that others don’t necessarily see or notice). These symptoms can include chronic fatigue, muscle pain, and constipation, says WebMD.
The list doesn’t stop there: visit your doctor if you’re also having symptoms such as feeling cold all the time, having irregular menstrual cycles, or suffering from depression. Your doctor can also check your heart rate, which can slow down when you have this disease.
5. It’s The Leading Cause of Hypothyroidism
EndocrineWeb.com says that about 14-million Americans suffer from chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis, and that Hashimoto’s Disease is responsible for the largest share of this health problem. Hashimoto’s itself is the most common form of thyroid disorder in the U.S., adds the source.
Hypothyroidism means your body lacks sufficient thyroid hormones, adds EndocrineWeb.com the same source. The main purpose of the hormone is to regulate your body’s metabolism, and an underactive gland will result in a slowed metabolism (among other symptoms we’ve already covered).
6. There May Be a Cancer Link
California-based non-profit, PLOS notes on its website that “in recent years” there have been reports that thyroid cancers are associated with lymphocytic thyroiditis or Hashimoto’s. It focuses on a study that looked at the prevalence of thyroiditis among patients with papillary thyroid cancer.
The study analysis involved 5,378 Korean patients with papillary thyroid cancer aged 20 to 79-years. The prevalence of chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis among these patients was 4-percent (for men) and 12.8-percent (for women) in 1999 – numbers that dramatically jumped to 10.7-percent (men) and 27.6-percent (women) by 2008. Korea has the highest incidence of thyroid cancer in the world, adds the source.
7. There are Treatments
The Mayo Clinic said that there are medications used to treat Hashimoto’s, but adds, “If you need medication, chances are you’ll need it for the rest of your life.” One of these drug treatments is called levothyroxine, which mimics natural hormone replacement therapy.
Your doctor may take some time to get the dosage right, so you could be back to the medical office after the first few weeks of treatment to make adjustments, adds the source. Overprescribing the treatment can actually result in bone loss and heart rhythm disorders, it adds.
8. The Genetic Connection
According to Prevention.com, Hashimoto’s disease has a genetic component that links it to family health history. As for all autoimmune conditions, “when one family member has an autoimmune condition, others are more likely to develop one,” it notes.
The source says many patients are not aware someone else in their family has a thyroid problem, and it advises to ask your family members if you’re diagnosed. (It might also be a good idea to know this kind of health history information even if you haven’t been diagnosed with anything).
9. There’s a Quick Diagnostic Test
If you’re not sure what’s causing your symptoms, your doctor might be able to help you with that fairly quickly. Prevention.com explains although not fun for “needle-phobes,” there’s a simple blood test to confirm the condition.
The test checks for your blood levels of 2-thyroid hormones called TSH and T4, according to the source. “To confirm Hashimoto’s, they’ll also look at whether you have antithyroid antibodies, which are produced when your immune system attacks the gland,” it adds.
10. There Can Be Serious Complications
Not to make things seem worse, but the Better Health Channel in Australia warns there can be serious consequences if the condition goes untreated – including death.
The source says complications can also include a goiter (when the gland enlarges), heart conditions such as a heart attack (from the rise of bad cholesterol that is normally kept in check by thyroid hormones), emotional problems (depression and low libido), and myxoedema – a severe form of hypothyroidism that can lead to a coma and can be fatal in “very rare” cases.
11. Symptoms Creep Up Gradually
Prevention.com says you may not even suspect you have a thyroid problem because of the “chronic, sluggish development” of symptoms as the thyroid slows down. It’s a gradual disease that can worsen over time.
“It’s not like you wake up one day 10 pounds heavier and your mood is awful,” it explains. The source suggests to “stay in tune with your body,” and check in with your doctor if things aren’t feeling like they should – hint: you shouldn’t be feeling tired and moody all the time.
12. It May Affect Ability to Conceive
MedicineNet.com says that although Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism is not a reason for women to avoid trying to get pregnant, but in some cases it may lead to trouble conceiving. “In addition to careful obstetric care, management of thyroid hormone replacement by an endocrinologist is helpful,” it notes.
It says thyroid hormone levels should be checked before and during pregnancy, so the medication doses can be adjusted if necessary. “The target goal is usually within the range for non-pregnant women but at the higher end of the normal range,” it adds.