Hashimoto's Thyroiditis: the silent disease unveiled
Updated: Aug 27
I was diagnosed with Hashimoto's Thyroiditis in early 2022 after suffering from some vague symptoms that were easy to overlook as an overworked mother of 2 children under the age of 4. Hashimoto's is an autoimmune disease that affects the thyroid gland. It is a silent disease, meaning that symptoms may be subtle or absent until the condition is advanced.
The cause of Hashimoto's Thyroiditis is still unknown, but many experts believe that it is the result of a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Left untreated, Hashimoto's Thyroiditis can lead to complications including hypothyroidism or goiters and in severe (and rare!) circumstances, death. Let's dive into the signs, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of Hashimoto's Thyroiditis, so you can be better informed and equipped to manage this potentially serious condition.
Hashimoto's symptoms and embarrassing conversations
Hashimoto's is an autoimmune disease that affects the thyroid gland. It occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the thyroid, leading to inflammation and damage over time. This can cause the thyroid to become underactive, resulting in a decrease in the production of thyroid hormones. It is more common in women and tends to run in families.
Google will tell you that the symptoms of Hashimoto's Thyroiditis include fatigue (even when sleeping well), weight gain (even when eating well and exercising), sensitivity to cold, dry skin, and muscle weakness. These symptoms can be subtle, increasing very slowly in the early stages of Hashimoto's. I found that I also suffered from brain fog and significant memory problems. I wrote these symptoms off, as many women in their 30s do, blaming it on being tired, working too much and having two children aged 1 and 4 who kept me up during the night.
The impetus to finally see my GP was an incident in my local supermarket. I stood feeling completely lost as I tried to make conversation with someone I have worked with on and off for the best part of 10 years... the problem? I could not remember her name or exactly how I knew her. I knew that we had worked together, but was it from the internship I did during University or was it during the three years I spent in accountancy practice or was it one of the many different jobs I had done working at a Bank over the last decade? I was flustered and embarrassed. It took me the best part of a week to remember her name and where we worked together. This was not an isolated incident but it was bad enough that I finally saw my GP about it. My symptoms combined with my disclosure of family members with thyroid problems and a simple blood test and I was diagnosed.
Hashimoto's Thyroiditis is believed to have a combination of genetic and environmental causes. While the exact triggers are not fully understood, certain factors can increase the risk of developing the condition. Family history plays a significant role, my grandmother suffered from thyroid problems and I have several relatives who live with other autoimmune diseases and allergies. Gender also plays a role, as women are more commonly affected by Hashimoto's (lucky us!). Environmental factors, such as exposure to certain chemicals or infections, are also thought to contribute to the development of the disease. Although the exact causes are not known, understanding these potential factors can help raise awareness and prompt early detection and intervention.
To diagnose Hashimoto's Thyroiditis, your GP will hopefully start with a thorough evaluation of your symptoms and medical history. They may ask about any family history of thyroid disease, as this can be a key indicator. Blood tests will also be conducted to measure the levels of thyroid hormones and antibodies in your system. An elevated level of antibodies, specifically anti-thyroid peroxidase (TPO) and anti-thyroglobulin (Tg), can help confirm the diagnosis. Depending on how far progressed your GP thinks the disease is and whether your thyroid is swollen, you may also be referred for an ultrasound to assess the size and appearance of your thyroid gland. Don't hope for a quick answer here... it took 12 months for me to get an appointment to have my thyroid scanned! If you are fortunate enough to have access to private healthcare you will see the same doctors more quickly. In some cases, a thyroid biopsy may be necessary to rule out other conditions. Prompt diagnosis is essential for effective management and treatment of Hashimoto's, so if you suspect you may have the condition, it's important to contact your GP as soon as possible.
Treatment for Hashimoto's
If you are diagnosed with Hashimoto's, there are several treatment options available to help manage the condition and alleviate symptoms. Although it's important to know this is dependant on how far progressed the disease is. The most common form of treatment is hormone replacement therapy, which involves taking synthetic thyroid hormones to compensate for the decreased production by the thyroid gland. This can help regulate your hormone levels and alleviate symptoms such as fatigue, weight gain, and sensitivity to cold. In addition to medication, your GP (in conjunction with an endocrinologist) may recommend regular monitoring of your thyroid hormone levels and adjusting your dosage as needed. It is important to follow your prescribed treatment plan and attend regular check-ups to ensure that your condition is properly managed. Additionally, making lifestyle changes such as adopting a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and managing stress can also be beneficial in managing Hashimoto's. There is increasing evidence that a gluten-free and or dairy free diet can alleviate some of the symptoms of Hashimoto's thyroiditis by reducing inflammation in your body. Consulting with your GP or endocrinologist is crucial to determining the best treatment plan for your individual needs. Remember, you don't have to face Hashimoto's alone – there are treatment options available to help you live a fulfilling and healthy life.