What Is Hashimoto’s Disease?

image depicting inflamed thyroid due to Hashimoto's disease

What Is Hashimoto’s Disease?

Hashimoto’s disease, also known as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, is an autoimmune disorder that affects the thyroid gland. In this condition, the immune system mistakenly attacks the thyroid (a small gland at the base of your neck), leading to inflammation and often an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism). This can cause a variety of symptoms and complications if it’s not properly managed.

Is Hashimoto’s Disease the Same As Hypothyroidism?

Hashimoto’s disease is not the same as hypothyroidism, though they are closely related. Hashimoto’s disease is the leading cause of hypothyroidism in many parts of the world. Hypothyroidism is when the thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormones. Hashimoto’s disease is the underlying autoimmune process that can lead to the thyroid gland’s impaired function, resulting in hypothyroidism. In other words, Hashimoto’s can cause hypothyroidism, but not all cases of hypothyroidism are due to Hashimoto’s disease.

Hashimoto’s vs Grave’s Disease

Hashimoto’s disease and Grave’s disease are both autoimmune disorders affecting the thyroid gland, but they have opposite effects.

Hashimoto’s disease typically leads to hypothyroidism, where the thyroid gland produces too little thyroid hormone. In contrast, Graves’ disease causes hyperthyroidism, where the thyroid gland overproduces thyroid hormones.

Both conditions involve an immune system attack on the thyroid, but the nature of the attack and its effects on thyroid function are different. While Hashimoto’s disease often results in a gradual decrease in thyroid hormone levels, Grave’s disease leads to an increase in thyroid hormone levels, which can cause symptoms like weight loss, anxiety, and rapid heartbeat.

How Do I Know I Have Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis?

Diagnosing Hashimoto’s thyroiditis involves a combination of medical history, physical examination, and laboratory tests. Common symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Weight gain
  • Cold intolerance
  • Joint and muscle pain
  •  Dry skin
  • Hair loss

If you experience these symptoms, your doctor may order blood tests to check certain markers that indicate hypothyroidism. The go-to lab is TSH and sometimes free T4. But that is not enough to truly assess how the thyroid gland is working. There are at least six other markers that need to be checked to evaluate for hypothyroidism. A functional medicine provider will order a comprehensive thyroid panel that includes these markers to leave no stone unturned.

How Do You Treat Hashimoto’s?

Treatment for Hashimoto’s disease primarily focuses on managing hypothyroidism since there’s no cure for the autoimmune disorder itself. The standard treatment is hormone replacement therapy with synthetic thyroid hormones such as levothyroxine (synthetic T4).

In functional medicine, we like to treat with natural desiccated thyroid replacement (see below). This medication can help normalize hormone levels and alleviate symptoms. The thyroid dosage is tailored to the individual based on regular blood tests that measure thyroid hormone levels.

In addition to medication, some lifestyle changes can support thyroid health. These include maintaining a balanced diet rich in essential nutrients, managing stress (see below), and avoiding substances that can interfere with thyroid function, like excessive iodine and certain medications. Regular monitoring by a healthcare provider is essential to ensure that the treatment remains effective and to adjust dosages as necessary.

New Treatments for Hashimoto’s

Traditional therapies for hypothyroidism typically address only T4, but it is important to consider T3 levels when addressing hypothyroidism related to Hashimoto’s disease. T3 is the active form of T4, which accounts for the majority of the body’s stored thyroid hormone. Low levels of free T3 in the blood can indicate a thyroid issue just as low levels of T4 can. The body may also secrete high levels of RT3, or reverse RT3, which is a deactivated form of T3. High levels of RT3 mean the body is not using enough active T3, leading to symptoms of an underactive thyroid.

For these reasons, many functional medicine specialists use something called “desiccated” thyroid derived from an animal source (usually a pig or cow). The animal’s thyroid gland is powdered and an extract is prepared that contains both T3 and T4.

This extract may be used on its own or along with synthetic thyroid to address symptoms of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.

Lifestyle Considerations For Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis

RT3 tends to increase during high periods of stress or illness, which signals the body to produce higher levels of cortisol. This is why a holistic approach is important when treating symptoms of Hashimoto’s disorder. Mental health and wellness will be as important as medications.

Your functional medicine provider will recommend avenues for stress relief, such as mindfulness and meditation. He or she will also educate you about good sleep hygiene and the importance of aerobic exercise in decreasing stress.

What Happens If You Don’t Treat Hashimoto’s Disease?

If left untreated, Hashimoto’s disease can lead to several complications due to prolonged hypothyroidism. These complications include:

  • Goiter (an enlarged thyroid gland)
  •  Increased heart problems (heart disease and heart failure)
  • Depression
  • Myxedema (a life-threatening condition caused by severe hypothyroidism)
  • Developmental issues for unborn babies

Timely diagnosis and treatment are crucial to prevent these complications and maintain overall health.

Treatment For Hashimoto’s Disease in Omaha

If you are experiencing symptoms of Hashimoto’s or a related thyroid disorder in Omaha, please contact Balanced Body Health & Wellness. We are Omaha’s premier functional medicine clinic, specializing in hormonal imbalance. We utilize a holistic approach that seeks to treat the underlying cause of your discomfort, not just your symptoms. We will work with you to develop a treatment plan that produces long-term, sustainable results. Book your appointment at Balanced Body Health & Wellness and start feeling better today.