Hashimoto disease, also known as Hashimoto's thyroiditis, is an autoimmune disease. This means your immune system, which normally protects your body and helps fight disease, produces antibodies which attack the thyroid gland. The damaged thyroid gland is less able to make thyroid hormone and this results in hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism means that the thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormone to meet the body's needs.
Anyone can develop Hashimoto disease, but it occurs more often in women and those with a family history of thyroid disease. It also occurs more often as people get older. People with other autoimmune disorders are more likely to develop Hashimoto disease. The hypothyroidism caused by Hashimoto disease progresses slowly over months to years. Its symptoms vary from person to person.
Possible symptoms include:
If left untreated, hypothyroidism caused by Hashimoto disease can lead to serious complications:
Your doctor will perform a physical examination and order blood tests to measure your hormone levels; we collectively call these labs thyroid function tests (TFTs) - TSH, free T4, and total T3.
Not everyone with Hashimoto disease has hypothyroidism. If you have positive TPO antibodies but thyroid hormone levels are normal, then observation with repeated thyroid function tests is often times recommended. If thyroid hormone levels are low, then treatment often involves thyroid hormone replacement therapy. If you have symptoms of hypothyroidism but the thyroid function tests are normal, then it is most likely that the symptoms are coming from a different cause than the thyroid. The most effective treatment is a synthetic (man-made) T4 medicine called levothyroxine.
Levothyroxine is identical to the T4 produced by your body. A daily pill can restore normal levels of thyroid hormone and TSH in your bloodstream and make your thyroid function normal. You will probably need to take this medicine daily for the rest of your life, but your dose may need to be adjusted from time to time related to multiple aspects such as your weight, if you remember to take medication, and how it is spaced out from food and other medication. To maintain consistent thyroid hormone levels in your blood, you should always take the same brand since not all medicines are exactly the same. You should not take calcium supplements or anti-acid medications with your thyroid medication.
People are not routinely screened for hypothyroidism. However, if you are at risk for thyroid disease and are thinking about getting pregnant, you should be tested. Hypothyroidism is easily treated and you can protect your child from birth defects.
The Hormone Health Network is the public education affiliate of the Endocrine Society dedicated to helping both patients and doctors find information on the prevention, treatment and cure of hormone-related conditions.
All Network materials, including the content on this site, are reviewed by experts in the field of endocrinology to ensure the most balanced, accurate, and relevant information available. The information on this site and Network publications do not replace the advice of a trained healthcare provider.
Paid advertisements appear on the Hormone Health Network. Advertising participation does not influence editorial decisions or content.