Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, also called Hashimoto’s disease, chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis, or autoimmune thyroiditis, is an autoimmune disorder that causes hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid.
It occurs when your immune system mistakenly attacks your thyroid gland, a small butterfly-shaped gland in the front of your neck. This damages your thyroid so that it can’t make enough thyroid hormones.
The hormones produced by your thyroid control how your body breaks down food and uses it for energy—a process called metabolism. Without enough thyroid hormones, your body’s metabolism slows down. This can cause diverse symptoms including weight gain, cold intolerance, a slowed heart rate, constipation and memory problems.
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is the most common cause of hypothyroidism in the United States. It affects about 5 people out of 100, and is roughly 8 times more common in women than in men. Although this disorder occurs in young women or teens, it more often appears between the ages of 40 and 60.
You are more at risk of developing Hashimoto’s thyroiditis if other family members have the condition, and if you have other autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus or Sjögren’s syndrome.
If Hashimoto’s disease has damaged your thyroid enough to cause hypothyroidism, treatment involves taking a synthetic hormone in daily pill form to replace the hormone that your thyroid can no longer make.
Because Hashimoto’s thyroiditis can be confused with other medical conditions and be challenging to diagnose, it’s important to see an endocrinology specialist for a timely, accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
Why Choose Cooper to Diagnose and Treat Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis
With 10 board-certified endocrinologists, Cooper is home to South Jersey’s largest and most comprehensive team of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis experts. They also serve as faculty at Cooper Medical School at Rowan University—testament to the high level of advanced expertise available here. Count on us for:
- The latest knowledge about Hashimoto’s thyroiditis treatments, including treating hypothyroidism during pregnancy
- A multidisciplinary team approach to care— Because Hashimoto’s disease can affect multiple body systems, including the heart, digestion and cognition, effective care can require many specialists. As an academic medical center, Cooper has experts in more than 75 specialties, giving you streamlined access to all the expertise you need, all in one place.
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis causes and risk factors
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is caused when your immune system, which normally fights “outsiders” like bacteria or viruses, attacks your thyroid gland instead. Scientists don’t know for sure why this occurs; some believe it may be triggered by a bacterium or virus, while others think a gene may be involved.
Several factors increase your risk of having this disorder, including:
- Gender: Women are at least 8 times more likely to have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis than men, and it can sometimes occur during pregnancy
- Age: It most often appears between the ages of 40 and 60, but it may occur in teens and young women
- Other autoimmune disease: Conditions linked to Hashimoto’s disease include:
- Addison’s disease: A hormonal disorder
- Lupus: A chronic condition that can affect multiple parts of the body
- Celiac disease: A digestive disorder
- Rheumatoid arthritis: A condition that affects the joints and other body systems
- Sjögren’s syndrome: A disorder that causes dry eyes and mouth
- Pernicious anemia: A condition caused by a vitamin B12 deficiency
- Type 1 diabetes: A disease that occurs when your blood glucose (sugar) is too high
- Vitiligo: A condition in which parts of the skin have no pigment
- Autoimmune hepatitis: A disease in which the immune system attacks the liver
- Heredity: Hashimoto’s disease tends to run in families, but no specific gene has been identified
Symptoms of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is often without symptoms early in the disease. As hypothyroidism progresses, you may experience one of more of these symptoms:
- Weight gain
- Intolerance to cold
- Muscle weakness
- Slowed heart rate
- Dry, thinning hair, including missing eyebrows on the outer half
- Goiter (an enlarged thyroid gland)
- Memory problems
- Heavy or irregular periods, problems getting pregnant
Treating Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
Treatment for Hashimoto’s thyroiditis depends on whether your thyroid gland is damaged enough to cause hypothyroidism. If it is, the hypothyroidism can be controlled by replacing the hormone that your thyroid no longer makes.
You will be given an oral medicine called levothyroxine, a synthetic thyroid hormone that is identical to what your thyroid normally produces. You will be directed to take this pill daily, in the morning before your first meal. Your doctor will regularly monitor your thyroid levels and adjust your medication, if needed, until you reach a dose that works for you.
If you don’t have hypothyroidism, your doctor will simply monitor you to see if your Hashimoto’s disease worsens, then prescribe medicine at that time.