Hashimoto’s: An often misdiagnosed thyroid disorder

The thyroid makes hormones that help regulate critical body functions like growth and development, body temperature, heart rate, menstrual cycle and weight. If the thyroid becomes underactive and stops producing these hormones, it can spell serious trouble for our health.

There are a few things that can cause an underactive thyroid, but the most common cause is Hashimoto’s disease. This condition occurs when your immune system basically attacks and kills your thyroid gland so it doesn’t function the way it’s supposed to.

Hashimoto’s is believed to affect 1 to 2 percent of people in the United States. But some experts say it is not uncommon for it to be misdiagnosed for other conditions, including chronic fatigue syndrome, depression, fibromyalgia, PMS or an anxiety or bipolar disorder.

Understanding the risks, causes and symptoms, as well as testing, is important for getting a proper diagnosis and relief.

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Causes and symptoms

The people most at risk of Hashimoto’s are women, in whom the disease is five to 10 times more common than men. And though it can occur at any age, it’s most often seen in middle age. Other risk factors for Hashimoto’s include having a close relative with Hashimoto’s or another autoimmune disorder.

What causes Hashimoto’s is unclear, though it’s believed to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Some potential non-genetic triggers for the disease include changes in sex hormones (particularly in women), viral infections, certain iodine-rich medications, exposure to ionizing radiation, eating large amounts of animal protein or foods that have large amounts of iodine — such as kelp, dulse, or other kinds of seaweed — may cause hypothyroidism or make it worse. Iodine is a substance involved in the production of thyroid hormones.

One of the first signs of Hashimoto’s disease, also known as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or autoimmune thyroiditis, is an enlargement of the thyroid known as a goiter. Depending on how big the thyroid gets, it can cause the neck to look swollen and may interfere with breathing and swallowing.

Other symptoms of Hashimoto’s include:

  • Fatigue
  • Constipation
  • Sensitivity to cold
  • Weight gain
  • Muscle aches
  • Joint pain
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Hair thinning
  • Pale, puffy face
  • Slow heart rate
  • Memory problems
  • Dry skin
  • Irregular periods

People with Hashimoto’s disease are at increased risk of developing other autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, vitiligo, Addison’s disease and pernicious anemia. Hashimoto’s can also significantly raise your risk of dementia.

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Testing and Management

If you suspect you may have Hashimoto’s, you should talk to your doctor about testing. However, don’t be surprised if your doctor says your tests came out normal.

Sometimes Hashimoto’s doesn’t show up on a typical thyroid hormone test, so make sure your doctor checks for other factors like an enlarged thyroid that could indicate Hashimoto’s.

Whether you have Hashimoto’s or not, it’s always a good idea to take steps to protect the health of your thyroid. As with most things health-related, it all starts with getting enough exercise and eating a healthy diet. The green Mediterranean and keto diets in particular have been associated with reduced inflammation in the body.

This matters because the immune system attacks the cells in the thyroid gland over a long period, causing inflammation. So, overall, it’s important to avoid foods that can trigger excess inflammation, including processed foods, breads, sugars, snack foods and frozen meals high in preservatives and food dyes. If it’s got a name in its ingredient list that’s hard for you to pronounce, you should probably leave it on the shelf.

Another advisable step is to get tested for gluten sensitivity or cut down on gluten-containing foods. Gluten has been found to contain proteins that interact with thyroid antigens and may worsen symptoms. A gluten-free diet also reduces inflammation and decreases antibody levels.

Some supplements that support good thyroid health and lower inflammation levels include:

  • Selenium, a trace mineral that helps convert relatively inactive T4s to the active thyroid hormone T3.
  • Ashwagandha root, which works as an immune modulator to help regulate autoimmune inflammation that contributes to Hashimoto’s.
  • Copper, which helps stimulate the thyroid and protect the boxy from too much thyroxine (a thyroid hormone) building up in the blood.
  • Omega 3 fatty acids, which help manage inflammation and reduce your risk of developing autoimmune disease.
  • Vitamin D3, another great inflammation fighter that lowers your autoimmune disease risk.

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Hashimoto’s disease — MedlinePlus

Hashimoto’s thyroiditis: What you need to know — Medical News Today

Carolyn Gretton

By Carolyn Gretton

Carolyn Gretton is a freelance writer based in New Haven, CT who specializes in all aspects of health and wellness and is passionate about discovering the latest health breakthroughs and sharing them with others. She has worked with a wide range of companies in the alternative health space and has written for online and print publications like Dow Jones Newswires and the Philadelphia Inquirer.