What is Hashimoto’s Disease? (Causes + Risk Factors)
What is Hashimoto’s Disease?
Hashimoto’s is both a thyroid disease and autoimmune disease. It can cause weight gain (10-20 pounds on average), chronic fatigue, pain in the joints and muscles, depression – and other symptoms that we will discuss more later. If Hashimoto’s is not properly treated, it can result in the thyroid not being able to produce enough thyroid hormone which affects many body systems as well as physical damage to the thyroid.
Hashimoto’s is a disease where the body attacks its own thyroid gland. The result is a malfunctioning thyroid. It is still unknown why the immune system attacks a healthy thyroid in the first place. When the attack initiates, the immune system launches a defensive response by producing what are called T-cells, or lymphocytes, a white blood cell which begin to invade the thyroid gland. These T-cells destroy healthy cells, tissues and blood vessels. It is important to note that the attack is very slow. Many people do not know they have Hashimoto’s for years until more obvious symptoms develop.
Once the thyroid tissue is being attacked, the immune system now triggers chronic inflammation. By this point the thyroid cannot utilize thyroid hormone and its abilities are impaired. This is when symptoms become more prominent in day to day life. In cases where the inflammation is particularly bad, a goiter will become noticeable and/or felt by the person.
What Causes Hashimoto’s Disease?
Recall that in Hashimoto’s patients, the immune system attacks the thyroid gland where it mistakenly thinks the thyroid tissue is a foreign invader. So, instead of protecting it, the immune system attacks it. When the thyroid becomes both inflamed and impaired, it can no longer produce adequate levels of thyroid hormone. Thyroid hormone is important in many body functions such as metabolism, respiration, brain development and nervous system function.
Causes of Hashimoto’s are still being explored. However, some potential causes include:
- Chemical and/or environmental irritants
- Bacteria or viruses; infections. Infections particularly have gained interest in research. Many Hashimoto patients exhibit previous infections. Infections produce an acute physiologic response. However, subtle symptoms can be overlooked and persist for a long time turning into chronic unrecognizable symptoms. This becomes a sub-clinical state. Microorganisms may be present in the body but cannot be identified from lab work yet. These microorganisms can release toxins that affect the body acutely or chronically. Some symptoms may be similar to your common illnesses or appear as food intolerance, allergies, anemia, diarrhea or hormone imbalance.
- Prescription drugs (drug-induced autoimmunity)
Other risk factors for developing Hashimoto’s:
- Women in childbearing years, 30-50 years old
- Genetic predisposition
- Family history of other autoimmune diseases
- Nutritional deficiencies (particularly iodine and selenium)
- Stealth, viral, bacterial or yeast infections
- Foodborne bacterial illness
- Chronic stress (that causes adrenal insufficiency)
- Hormonal or immune system changes (including pregnancy)
Symptoms of Hashimoto’s
Additional symptoms that can be evident with someone who has Hashimoto’s include:
- Chronic fatigue
- Decreased tolerance to cold
- Heavy or abnormal menstrual bleeding
- Hoarse voice
- Joint pain and/or stiffness
- Memory loss
- Muscle aches and pains; weakness
- Pale, dry, flaky skin
- Swelling in hands, knees and feet
- Unexplained weight gain (10-20 pounds on average)
Need more help?
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