Hashimoto’s disease is a common and medically treatable condition most frequently diagnosed in women. In the following informational question and answer session, Marla Ahlgrimm explains Hashimoto’s, its potential consequences, and treatment options.
Q: What is Hashimoto’s Disease?
Marla Ahlgrimm: Hashimoto’s disease is an immune disorder that affects the thyroid gland. It is the most common cause of hypothyroidism in North America. Hashimoto’s disease causes chronic inflammation that inhibits the endocrine system’s ability to produce hormones.
Q: Who is at risk?
Marla Ahlgrimm: While men can get Hashimoto’s disease, it affects mostly middle-aged women. A family history of autoimmune disorders and thyroid dysfunction puts an individual more at risk of Hashimoto’s. Other autoimmune diseases including rheumatoid arthritis and lupus also increase a person’s risk.
Q: How can medications lessen the symptoms of Hashimoto’s disease?
Marla Ahlgrimm: Treatment for Hashimoto’s disease and hypothyroidism often begins with observation. Patients found with thyroid hormone deficiencies may benefit from hormone therapy. Thyroid hormone therapy, (levothyroxine and liothyronine) mimic the hormones produced naturally by the body and can alleviate fatigue, lower “bad” cholesterol levels, and reverse weight gain. Women who are prescribed thyroid homrone should avoid iron supplements, certain cholesterol medications, antacids, ulcer medications, and calcium supplements within four hours of each other.
Q: Are there other health issues that can arise if Hashimoto’s is left untreated?
Marla Ahlgrimm: People with hypothyroidism are often more at risk for heart disease than others. As well, Hashimoto’s can result in decreased sexual desire, depression, and mental health issues. Rarely, Hashimoto’s disease and hypothyroidism can develop into myxedema, a potentially life threatening disease that requires immediate medical treatment. Myxedema’s symptoms include drowsiness, profound lethargy, cold intolerance, and unconsciousness. Those taking sedatives or under undue stress are at risk of a myxedema-induced coma. Women who become pregnant while suffering from untreated hypothyroidism put their babies at a higher risk of birth defects including intellectual and developmental delays.