Hashimoto’s Disease

Hashimoto’s disease happens when your immune system attacks your thyroid.  The thyroid is a small gland at the base of your neck. The thyroid gland is part of your endocrine system, which produces hormones that coordinate many of your body’s functions.

Inflammation from Hashimoto’s disease is also known as chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis.  This often leads to an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism).  Hashimoto’s disease is the most common cause of hypothyroidism.  It affects mainly middle-aged women but can also occur in men and women of any age and in children.

Doctors have to test your thyroid to detect Hashimoto’s disease.  The treatment for Hashimoto’s is thyroid hormone replacement. 


At first you might not notice signs or symptoms of Hashimoto’s disease.  
You may notice a swelling at the front of your throat (goiter). Hashimoto’s disease typically progresses slowly over years and causes chronic thyroid damage.  This leads to a drop in thyroid hormone levels in your blood.  The symptoms are mainly those of an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism).

Symptoms of hypothyroidism include:

Fatigue and sluggishness

Increased sensitivity to cold


Pale, dry skin

A puffy face

Brittle nails

Hair loss

Enlargement of the tongue

Unexplained weight gain

Muscle aches, tenderness and stiffness

Joint pain and stiffness

Muscle weakness

Excessive or prolonged menstrual bleeding


Memory lapses


Dry skin

Pale, puffy face


You should see your doctor to test your thyroid function on a regular basis if you have had thyroid surgery, treatment with radio active iodine or if you are taking anti-thyroid medication.  You should also continue seeing your doctor if you have had radiation treatment to your head, neck or upper chest.  High blood cholesterol can also be caused by hypothyroidism.

You will need to schedule follow up visits with your doctor if you are receiving hormone therapy for hypothyroidism caused by Hashimoto’s disease.  Make sure you attend these visits as often as your doctor recommends.  As time goes on you may need to change the dosage of your medication since your replacement needs may change.

Hashimoto’s disease is an autoimmune disorder in which your immune system creates antibodies that damage your thyroid gland.  Medical professionals do not know what causes the immune system to attack your thyroid gland.  Some scientists think it may be a virus or bacterium.  Others believe a genetic flaw may be involved.  A combination of factors — including heredity, sex and age — may determine your likelihood of developing the disorder.

Risk factors

These factors may contribute to your risk of developing Hashimoto’s disease:

Women are much more likely to get Hashimoto’s disease.

Hashimoto’s disease can occur at any age but more commonly occurs during middle age.

You’re at higher risk for Hashimoto’s disease if others in your family have thyroid or other autoimmune diseases.

 Having another autoimmune disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes or lupus increases your risk of developing Hashimoto’s disease.

 People exposed to excessive levels of environmental radiation are more prone to Hashimoto’s disease.

Left untreated, an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism) caused by Hashimoto’s disease can lead to a number of health problems:

Constant stimulation of your thyroid to release more hormones may cause the gland to become enlarged, a condition known as a goiter. Hypothyroidism is one of the most common causes of goiters. It’s generally not uncomfortable, but a large goiter can affect your appearance and may interfere with swallowing or breathing.

Hashimoto’s disease may also be associated with an increased risk of heart disease, because high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, the “bad” cholesterol, can occur in people with an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism).  If left untreated, hypothyroidism can lead to an enlarged heart and, possibly heart failure.

Depression may occur early in Hashimoto’s disease and may become more severe over time. Hashimoto’s disease can also cause sexual desire (libido) to decrease in both men and women and can lead to slowed mental functioning.

Myxedema is a rare, life-threatening condition can develop due to long-term severe hypothyroidism as a result of untreated Hashimoto’s disease.  Its signs and symptoms include drowsiness followed by profound lethargy and unconsciousness.  A myxedema coma may be triggered by exposure to cold, sedatives, infection or other stress on your body.  Myxedema requires immediate emergency medical treatment.[1]

Babies born to women with untreated hypothyroidism due to Hashimoto’s disease may have a higher risk of birth defects than do babies born to healthy mothers. Doctors have long known that these children are more prone to intellectual and developmental problems. There may be a link between hypothyroid pregnancies and birth defects, such as a cleft palate.[2]

A connection also exists between hypothyroid pregnancies and heart, brain and kidney problems in infants. If you’re planning to get pregnant or if you’re in early pregnancy, be sure to have your thyroid level checked.[3]

[1] Mayo Clinic

[2] Mayo Clinic

[3] Mayo Clinic