Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis Awareness Month: What You Need To Know

Your immune system is a complex collection of organs, cells, and antibodies found throughout your body. Your white blood cells, spleen, bone marrow, stomach acid, tonsils, adenoids, thymus, and lymph nodes all work together to keep you healthy. When your immune system is healthy, it hones in and attacks viruses, harmful bacteria, and other toxins.

If you have an autoimmune disorder, your immune system mistakenly attacks your body's healthy tissue. So far, scientists have discovered more than 80 autoimmune diseases.¹ Hashimoto's thyroiditis is one of these diseases, and it affects your thyroid. Learn more about this disease and when Hashimoto's awareness month is observed.

Have you considered clinical trials for Hashimoto's disease?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Hashimoto's disease, and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

What is Hashimoto's thyroiditis?

Your thyroid is located in your throat and lies in front of your windpipe, just below your Adam's apple. This butterfly-shaped gland produces two vital hormones that control how your body uses energy, triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4).

The disease is named for Dr. Hakaru Hashimoto, who first reported pathological findings of the disease in 1912. However, the medical community wouldn't use the term "Hashimoto's" to describe the condition for almost another three decades. The term thyroiditis literally means "inflammation of the thyroid." Hashimoto's thyroiditis is also called Hashimoto's disease, chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis, and chronic autoimmune thyroiditis.

Hashimoto’s thyroiditis occurs when certain antibodies attack the healthy thyroid cells responsible for secreting the thyroid hormones, causing their damage or death. This leads to a reduction in thyroid hormones, which impacts various functions such as metabolism, brain function, bone development, and cardiovascular. 

Hashimoto's disease facts and statistics

Hashimoto's thyroiditis affects around 1% to 2% of the US population.² The disease is the most common cause of hypothyroidism, an underactive thyroid. If you have hypothyroidism, your body does not produce enough T3 and T4 hormones.  

Causes and risk factors for Hashimoto's disease

Your doctor may not be able to determine the cause of your Hashimoto's disease. Some people carry the genes for Hashimoto's, and it's possible that an environmental factor or virus can trigger the condition. You may have a higher risk of developing Hashimoto's if:

  • You are a middle-aged woman. The disease is 4 to 10 times³ more common in womenthan men. However, both men and women can develop Hashimoto's at any age.

  • You have a blood relative with Hashimoto's or another thyroid disease. Thyroid disorders tend to run in families.

  • You have been diagnosed with another autoimmune disorder like type 1 diabetes, lupus, or celiac disease. Research has shown that 25% of patients with an autoimmune disorder⁴ tend to develop another autoimmune disease. 

  • You have taken certain medications to treat a mental health disorder or an abnormal heart rhythm. Do not stop taking any medication without talking to your healthcare provider. If your doctor prescribed medication that increases your odds of developing Hashimoto's, they believe the benefits of this drug outweigh this potential risk.

  • Exposure to certain toxins or radiation

  • Excess Iodine intake, whether through diet or medication

Keep in mind that having one or more risk factors for Hashimoto's does not guarantee that you will ever develop the condition.

Symptoms of Hashimoto’s disease

Hashimoto's thyroiditis develops gradually, usually mild at first but becomes more severe with time. You can live with it for a long time without symptoms.

As with other thyroid diseases, Hashimoto's can cause enlargement of the thyroid, also known as goiter. Goiter makes the front of your neck swollen and may cause difficulty swallowing, though it rarely causes pain.

Other common symptoms of Hashimoto's disease include:

Complications of Hashimoto's disease

In many cases, Hashimoto's causes an underactive thyroid or hypothyroidism. If left untreated, hypothyroidism can lead to complications such as:

If an underactive thyroid is left untreated long enough, you could develop a rare but serious condition called myxedema.

Treatments for Hashimoto's thyroiditis

Your healthcare provider will treat your Hashimoto's depending on whether your thyroid hormone levels are still within the normal range, despite having the antibodies and/or other diagnostic pathological or imaging findings.

If you have a Hashimoto diagnosis and your hormone levels remain normal, you may not require any medical treatment. Your doctor will continue to monitor your symptoms and thyroid hormone levels.

If you develop hypothyroidism, which will be detected when your T4 level is decreased, and/or your thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) level is increased, you will need to take thyroid hormone replacement medication. Two drugs commonly prescribed to treat Hashimoto's in the US are Armour Thyroid® and levothyroxine. Thyroid hormone replacement medication is available in capsule, tablet, and liquid form. Most patients with hypothyroidism need to take medication for the rest of their lives.

What is the prognosis for individuals with Hashimoto's thyroiditis?

If you follow your treatment plan, you have an excellent prognosis. You must take your medication as directed and ask your pharmacist or healthcare provider the following.

  • What you should do if you miss a dose

  • If you should take your medication on an empty stomach

  • If you need to avoid certain foods or other medications 

  • What side effects you should be aware of

  • When you should expect your symptoms to get better

  • What treatment options are safe for pregnant women

Your healthcare provider will need to monitor your thyroid hormone levels regularly. If these levels fall outside the normal range, your doctor may need to adjust your medication dose. Make sure you attend all lab appointments and doctor visits. 

When to see a doctor about your symptoms

The symptoms of Hashimoto's are not exclusive to the condition. The only way to diagnose Hashimoto's is through lab work. Let your doctor know if you experience unexplained fatigue, weight gain, intolerance to cold, achy muscles and joints, hair loss, and if you have a family history of thyroid disorders.

Women may notice that their periods are irregular, heavier, or much less in volume than usual. Some women are diagnosed with Hashimoto's after they experience a miscarriage or fertility problems.

After a Hashimoto's diagnosis, you should monitor your symptoms with your doctor to see if they persist or get better and return. You may need medication or a dosage change.

When is Hashimoto's awareness month? 

Disease awareness months are an important educational tool. These dedicated months are a time that advocacy groups and medical organizations can make the public aware of disease symptoms, treatments, research, and clinical trials.

Like many diseases, there is a time dedicated to promoting Hashimoto's awareness. Because the condition is both a thyroid disorder and an autoimmune disease, there are two different awareness months that shine a light on Hashimoto's.

Thyroid awareness month

Thyroid Awareness Month is observed in January of each year. The American Thyroid Association and other organizations bring awareness to Hashimoto's and other conditions through:

  • Public education about thyroid disease symptoms

  • Support for patients with Hashimoto's and other thyroid diseases

  • Advocating for educational and research grants 

  • Continuing education for healthcare providers

Awareness for Hashimoto's and other thyroid conditions is important. It is estimated that up to 60% of people with a thyroid condition⁵ are undiagnosed.

Autoimmune disease awareness month

Autoimmune Disease Awareness Month is observed every March. The Autoimmune Association and other advocacy groups work to:

  • Spread public awareness about autoimmune diseases

  • Support scientific research

  • Provide public and patient education

  • Advocate on the federal and state level

Hashimoto's is not always as well known as other autoimmune diseases like type 1 diabetes, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis.

The lowdown

Hashimoto's thyroiditis is an autoimmune disease that affects the thyroid gland. It is the leading cause of hypothyroidism, with 1 to 2% of the US population having the condition. If it's caught early, it's easily treatable with prescription medication. Attention is brought to Hashimoto's during Thyroid Awareness Month in January and Autoimmune Disease Awareness Month in March.

Have you considered clinical trials for Hashimoto's disease?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Hashimoto's disease, and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

Joining community groups and exercise programs for my condition made me feel empowered – but I want to be part of finding a cure.
Peter, 64


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