Hashimoto's disease

Hashimoto's disease is a condition in which your immune system attacks your thyroid, a small gland at the base of your neck below your Adam's apple. The thyroid gland is part of your endocrine system, which produces hormones that coordinate many of your body's activities.

The resulting inflammation from Hashimoto's disease, also known as chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis, often leads to an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism). Hashimoto's disease is the most common cause of hypothyroidism in the United States. It primarily affects middle-aged women but also can occur in men and women of any age and in children.

Doctors test your thyroid function to help detect Hashimoto's disease. Treatment of Hashimoto's disease with thyroid hormone replacement usually is simple and effective.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications

You might not notice signs or symptoms of Hashimoto's disease at first, or 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, leading to a drop in thyroid hormone levels in your blood. The signs and symptoms are mainly those of an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism).

Signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism include:

  • Fatigue and sluggishness
  • Increased sensitivity to cold
  • Constipation
  • Pale, dry skin
  • A puffy face
  • Hoarse voice
  • Unexplained weight gain — occurring infrequently and rarely exceeding 10 to 20 pounds, most of which is fluid
  • Muscle aches, tenderness and stiffness, especially in your shoulders and hips
  • Pain and stiffness in your joints and swelling in your knees or the small joints in your hands and feet
  • Muscle weakness, especially in your lower extremities
  • Excessive or prolonged menstrual bleeding (menorrhagia)
  • Depression

When to see a doctor

See your doctor if you develop these signs and symptoms:

  • Tiredness for no apparent reason
  • Dry skin
  • Pale, puffy face
  • Constipation
  • Hoarse voice

You'll also need to see your doctor for periodic testing of your thyroid function if:

  • You've had thyroid surgery
  • You've had treatment with radioactive iodine or anti-thyroid medications
  • You've had radiation therapy to your head, neck or upper chest

If you have high blood cholesterol, talk to your doctor about whether hypothyroidism may be a cause.

And if you're receiving hormone therapy for hypothyroidism caused by Hashimoto's disease, schedule follow-up visits as often as your doctor recommends. Initially, it's important to make sure you're receiving the correct dose of medicine. Over time, the dose you need to adequately replace your thyroid function may change.

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