Hashimoto's Disease is an autoimmune disorder which leads to hypothyroidism, causing a variety of symptoms. When left untreated, the disease can be fatal, as the underactive thyroid leads to muscle weakness, which will eventually cause heart failure. It can also cause myxedema, a dangerous skin and tissue condition. Fortunately, many cases are caught long before this stage, and the condition is manageable, especially when caught early. Regular medical checkups are usually enough to ensure that the condition is caught early.
This disease is named after Doctor Hakaru Hashimoto, a Japanese physician who first described the condition in the early 1900s. In Hashimoto's Disease, the immune system registers the thyroid gland as an invader, and it starts to attack it. The thyroid becomes inflamed as a result, causing hormone production to decline, and leading to hypothyroidism. The condition also causes a goiter, a swelling of the neck created when the thyroid gland becomes enlarged.
Many cases of Hashimoto's Disease are caught in routine blood tests and regular physical exams, with the doctor noting that something is awry and recommending additional testing. In other instances, people come in with symptoms like abnormal weight gain, pale skin, hoarseness, muscle weakness, dry skin, joint pain, sensitivity to cold, and swollen faces, and the doctor tests for hypothyroidism.
Hashimoto's Disease has no cure, but it can be managed. To compensate for the decline in hormone production, patients take supplementary thyroid hormones. As the body grows accustomed to the hormones, the thyroid gland typically starts to shrink, since it is not being pressured to produce hormones, and the symptoms start to resolve. Treatment for the disease usually addresses the other symptoms, including muscle weakness, putting a stop to more serious complications before they arise.
Once diagnosed, managing Hashimoto's Disease is a life-long commitment because the body cannot produce the thyroid hormones it needs on its own. It may also require some lifestyle adjustments, as certain foods and medications interact poorly with thyroid medication. The condition is most common in women, especially women between 35 and 55 years of age, and it seems to be more common in the United States. Hashimoto's Disease is only one cause of hypothroidism, so it's important to pursue all medical avenues when treating cases of suspected hypothyroidism, to ensure that the treatment is appropriate.