Hashimoto’s disease – facts and myths

Hasimoto’s disease or chronic thyroiditis affects about 2-5% of the population. It most often affects women but can also affect men (1 in 10 cases). The causes of the disease are not fully understood – it is said that both genetic and environmental factors may have an impact on its development. Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s defenses are directed against its own cells, in this case the thyroid gland. The result is primary hypothyroidism which can cause a number of health problems.

How to recognize Hashimoto’s?

According to some experts Hashimoto’s disease is overdiagnosed, meaning that it is found more often than it actually occurs. Diagnosis is not simple. Hashimoto’s can produce ambiguous symptoms – patients generally gain weight for no reason, experience constant sleepiness and fatigue as well as greater sensitivity to cold, have lowered mood, sometimes depressive states, their skin is dry and their hair is thin, and their heart rate is lowered. In women, irregular cycles and heavy periods may be a symptom of the abnormality. If the above symptoms appear, it is advisable to visit an endocrinologist. The endocrinologist will conduct a medical history and physical examination, and then order laboratory tests. Most often, the number of anti-thyroid antibodies (anti-TPO and anti-TG) is assessed and basic thyroid parameters such as TSH (sometimes also fT3 and fT4) are examined. Glucose and cholesterol levels should also be checked, since the disease sometimes causes them to rise. Additionally, an ultrasound of the thyroid gland may be valuable to detect changes that indicate the development of the disease.

What are the consequences of the disease and who is at risk?

Hashimoto’s disease may have the most serious consequences for the youngest. It can cause disorders of growth, intellectual development and puberty. It causes abnormal functioning of a very important gland, inflammation can cause destruction of the thyroid gland and its hypothyroidism. In adults, the disease can significantly impair mood and quality of life. Thyroid hormones are crucial to the functioning of the body, affecting the brain, heart, muscles, ovaries, intestines… They also control the production of heat energy. Hence, disturbing symptoms should certainly make you consult a doctor and perform appropriate tests. In the risk group are people who suffer from other autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis or diabetes. According to some works, the development of the disease may also be associated with lower mental immunity and exposure to chronic severe stress.

How is Hashimoto’s disease treated?

Hashimoto’s disease requires ongoing treatment and, in this sense, is incurable. Most often, doctors recommend taking synthetic thyroid hormones, in individually selected doses. This is done in order to regulate the hormones and stop any further changes caused by the disease. It is also necessary to have regular examinations and follow-up visits. A diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, selenium and vitamin D, as well as appropriate supplementation of these substances, may prove to be an ally in the treatment of the disease.

Hashimoto’s and pregnancy

Experts disagree about the impact of Hashimoto’s disease on the possibility of pregnancy and the risk of early miscarriage. The results of some studies indicate that thyroid hormone deficiencies can cause fertility problems and pregnancy loss in the first trimester. However, there are also papers that do not support such a relationship. The disease can be a problem if it co-occurs with other disorders, such as diabetes, endometriosis or immune abnormalities. Women with Hashimoto’s disease during pregnancy should be under the constant care of both a gynecologist and an endocrinologist. It is important to maintain TSG levels below 2.5 mIU/l and adequate fT4 levels. Most often, taking medications and regular check-ups allow the pregnancy to go well and the baby to be born healthy.

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