What Types Of Doctor Diagnose And Treat Hashimoto’s Disease?

A range of specialists may play a role in managing thyroid disease and controlling its symptoms. Some individuals may see only one doctor for their thyroid-related problems, while others may have several doctors who work together to manage their condition.

Here you'll learn about the different Hashimoto's thyroiditis specialists and when you should get a second opinion.

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What is Hashimoto's thyroiditis? 

Hashimoto's thyroiditis, also referred to as Hashimoto's disease is a common thyroid condition in the U.S.¹ It's an autoimmune condition that affects more women than men, and it's also more common in older individuals. 

Autoimmune conditions occur when the immune system in your body begins making antibodies that target parts of the body that they shouldn't.

Generally, your immune system works to protect your body and help fight disease. However, thyroid peroxidase antibodies (TPO), which are antibodies in Hashimoto's disease, target your thyroid gland.

This causes your thyroid to become inflamed and unable to produce thyroid hormones as normal. The results are low levels of thyroid hormone — a condition known as hypothyroidism.

Thyroid hormones are important for your bodily systems to function correctly. So, when you have Hashimoto's thyroiditis and hypothyroidism and leave them untreated, it can result in many complications, including:

  • Goiter: The growth of your thyroid.

  • Heart issues: Hypothyroidism can lead to an enlarged heart, poor heart function, and irregular heartbeats.

  • Mental health problems: Mental health conditions can develop, including depression.

  • Reproductive and sexual dysfunction: This can occur in both men and women and include ejaculation problems, low sex drive, and low testosterone levels.

  • Myxedema: A life-threatening but rare disorder that can develop because of severe, long-term, untreated hypothyroidism.

  • Pregnancy complications: This condition can lead to adverse effects during pregnancy,² including spontaneous pregnancy loss. 

Symptoms of Hashimoto's disease

Hashimoto’s disease can slowly progress over many years, and you may not experience symptoms at all.

But, eventually, your thyroid hormone production will decline and lead to any of the symptoms below:

  • Weight gain

  • Fatigue

  • Muscle aches

  • Depression

  • Constipation

  • Reduced exercise tolerance

  • Dry skin

  • Increased cold sensitivity

  • Heavy or irregular menstrual cycles

When to see a medical professional about your symptoms 

Hashimoto's disease symptoms aren't always specific to just that condition and can vary from person to person.

Since different conditions can also cause these symptoms, it's essential you see your doctor immediately to receive a timely and proper diagnosis.

Thyroid disease-related emergencies don't occur often, but they can occur. For example, extremely severe and untreated hypothyroidism can lead to hypothyroid ( myxedematous) coma (HC). This is an endocrine emergency that requires urgent care.

When there's a thyroid hormone deficiency, HC is typically triggered by various factors,³ such as:

  • Congestive heart failure (CHF)

  • Low outdoor temperatures

  • Large liquid amounts

  • Depressants

  • Systemic infections

  • Cerebrovascular episodes

  • Labor

  • Neuroleptics

  • Anesthetics

HC accounts for around 0.1% of hypothyroid patients³ in hospital. It especially affects women who are older than 60.

Hashimoto's thyroiditis diagnosis 

Doctors may diagnose Hashimoto's disease if you have hypothyroidism symptoms, often with a goiter.

Diagnosis is determined through a physical exam and lab tests, regardless of whether there's low thyroid hormone or not. Typically, when doctors measure the TPO antibody, it's elevated.

On some occasions, doctors can diagnose the disease early, particularly in those with a significant family history of thyroid disease. At this point, there may be no hypothyroidism symptoms.

What type of doctor treats Hashimoto's disease? 

You may be asking yourself, "what are the top doctors for Hashimoto's disease near me?" Or, "which specialist for Hashimoto's disease should I choose?"

Figuring out what type of doctor to see for your Hashimoto's thyroiditis can be a little confusing, as there is more than one type of doctor who can treat and manage this condition.

Doctors specializing in Hashimoto's disease come down to two types: a primary care doctor and an endocrinologist (Hashimoto's disease specialist, sometimes referred to as a thyroidologist).

Primary doctor

Primary doctors are your first point of contact for an undiagnosed health problem and the continued management of various health disorders.

Endocrinologist

Endocrinologists are doctors who have special training in diagnosing and treating endocrine system disorders, including Hashimoto’s disease.

The endocrine system makes up your organs and glands that make hormones. These disorders include infertility, diabetes, along with adrenal, pituitary, and other thyroid gland issues like hyperthyroidism.

Along with performing a medical examination and taking your complete medical history, diagnostic procedures for this condition may include blood testing to detect levels of thyroid antibodies and thyroid hormones. Usually, a primary care doctor can manage this condition.

Your doctor may prescribe you a synthetic thyroid hormone replacement drug to help replace what your body isn't producing. However, there are times when you'll need to see a thyroid specialist and/or receive a second opinion.

When to get a second opinion 

Some situations will require you to see an endocrinologist to oversee your care. This is a doctor specializing in the endocrine system. They are especially knowledgeable about thyroid gland function and the other hormone-secreting glands in the body. This makes them the best doctor for treating and managing Hashimoto's thyroiditis.

You may end up seeing an endocrinologist after you receive your initial diagnosis to evaluate your disorder, go over the results of tests, and go over your treatment plan. After one or two appointments with the endocrinologist, you may not need to see them regularly. This is typically where your primary care doctor can take over.

If you see your primary care doctor first, even with "textbook" hypothyroidism (with or without Hashimoto's disease), they may still refer you to an endocrinologist for various reasons, including:

  • They're not experienced in treating this condition.

  • You have a complex case due to multiple health issues.

  • They want the opinion of a specialist about your treatment and diagnosis.

The endocrinologist may wish to manage your disease on their own, depending on your diagnosis and plan of treatment. Or, they may decide to work closely with your primary care doctor to manage your condition.

Sometimes,  it's a good idea to see an endocrinologist when:

1. You're experiencing hypothyroidism symptoms that aren't getting better with treatment

If your symptoms persist despite taking thyroid hormone replacement medication, you may wish to set up an appointment with an endocrinologist to get a second opinion.

Some people with hypothyroidism have a harder time finding the right thyroid hormone medication concentration that works best for them. A specialist can usually help in these situations.

2. You have a lump or thyroid nodule

Your thyroid gland is situated right below your voice box in the front of your neck. If you have a nodule, lump, or another type of growth on your thyroid, it's best to have an endocrinologist look at it.

Most lumps are typically benign (noncancerous) and harmless, but in some cases, more severe changes can occur.

Some thyroid nodules turn out to be cancerous. And, while it's rare, some can cause hypothyroidism.

3. You have a goiter or enlarged thyroid gland

If you have a goiter, the endocrinologist can help determine why it developed and what type of treatment can help. They can also determine if you have hypothyroidism or not.

4. You have a pituitary gland condition that causes hypothyroidism

Your pituitary gland is located at the base of your brain, along with your hypothalamus. It controls your body's thyroid hormone production.

It's extremely unusual, but in some people, this gland can fail to give off the thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH) that helps stimulate thyroid hormone production.

Because this condition is complicated, seeing an endocrinologist will assist you in your next steps.

5. You're trying to conceive or are pregnant

It's important to know how Hashimoto's disease can affect your pregnancy or how pregnancy can affect your condition because hormone levels change considerably during pregnancy. 

If you're looking to become pregnant or already are, you should see an endocrinologist to closely monitor your thyroid hormone treatment. 

Leaving hypothyroidism untreated also increases your miscarriage risk, which is another reason you should see an endocrinologist if you're pregnant.

The lowdown

Finding the right doctor to manage your Hashimoto's thyroiditis can be overwhelming since this relationship is intensely personal. And, finding the right match isn't always easy. 

When in doubt, start with your primary care doctor, and, if needed, they'll refer you to the right specialist for your case.

  1. Hashimoto's disease | NIH: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

  2. Testing, monitoring, and treatment of thyroid dysfunction in pregnancy (2021)

  3. Clinical concepts on thyroid emergencies (2014)

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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