Is Hashimoto’s Disease An Autoimmune Disorder?

One in 15¹ people in the US has an autoimmune disease (also known as an autoimmune disorder), and 78% are female.² The exact cause of autoimmune diseases is unknown, but some of the risk factors include:

  • Genetic predisposition

  • Environmental factors

  • Gender

  • Infections

  • Obesity

Hashimoto's disease is one such autoimmune disease, and you're more likely to develop it if you have a family member with the condition.

So, what is Hashimoto’s disease, and what is an autoimmune disease? Let’s take a look.

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 disease?

Hashimoto’s disease (also called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis) is an autoimmune disease involving the thyroid. It affects 1%-2% of the population³ and is the leading cause of hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid) in developed countries.

Women are at least ten times more likely to receive a Hashimoto diagnosis than men. Diagnosis can happen at any age.

What does the thyroid do?

Your thyroid⁴ produces hormones that regulate your bodily functions, including your metabolism. When your thyroid creates too much or too little hormone, it can greatly impact your body.

Hashimoto’s disease often leads to hypothyroidism. Rarely, it can also cause hyperthyroidism.

Symptoms of hypothyroidism include:

  • Fatigue

  • Weight gain

  • Joint and muscle aches or weakness

  • Constipation

  • Dry skin or hair loss

  • Hoarseness

  • Depression

  • Cold intolerance

  • Irregular or heavy periods or fertility issues

  • Decreased heart rate

  • Cognitive changes, e.g., forgetfulness, depression

If you’re concerned about your symptoms, speak to your healthcare provider.

What are autoimmune diseases?

Normally, a healthy immune system fights viruses, bacteria, and anything else that can harm you. When you have an autoimmune disease, your body’s immune system misidentifies healthy cells as dangerous, destroying them and causing various symptoms.

There are approximately 110types of autoimmune diseases, and you can have more than one at the same time. Other examples are:

  • Multiple sclerosis (MS)

  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)

  • Celiac disease

What causes Hashimoto’s disease?

As Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disease, your immune system mistakes healthy thyroid cells for harmful invaders and attacks them.

While the cause of this attack is unknown, some people are more genetically predisposed. If a family member has Hashimoto’s, you’re more likely to develop it. Sometimes stress, infection, or pregnancy can trigger Hashimoto’s disease.

Another potential cause is too much or too little iodine,⁵ but researchers are still trying to ascertain which is more influential.

Who is more at risk of developing Hashimoto’s?

As already mentioned, if you have a family member with Hashimoto's, the risk of developing it increases.

Other risk factors include:

  • Having other autoimmune diseases, including type 1 diabetes and lupus

  • Being a woman, as Hashimoto’s is 4–10 times more common in women than men

  • Being a woman aged 30–50, although teenagers and young women can also develop it

Treatments for Hashimoto’s disease

If your Hashimoto's disease leads to hypothyroidism, which can cause a reduction in the amount of thyroid hormone your body produces, you will need to take thyroid replacement medication.

The main treatment for Hashimoto’s is levothyroxine, a synthetic version of thyroxine. You will need to take levothyroxine every day for the rest of your life.

As levothyroxine can take some time to work, your healthcare provider will need to test your TSH levels (a blood test) regularly to ensure you are adequately treated.

Although the medication starts working immediately, your symptoms might take several weeks to settle. The frequency of monitoring decreases to roughly every 6–12 months once you have been established on the correct dose.

Several things can affect your TSH level during your treatment, including:

  • Heart disease⁶

  • Pregnancy

  • Taking menopausal hormone therapy⁷ (MHT) (also known as hormone replacement therapy (HRT)

  • Other medications, including lithium,⁸ amiodarone,⁹ and chemotherapy drugs¹⁰

This is why it’s important to check your TSH levels regularly, even if you’ve been taking levothyroxine for years.

Levothyroxine is safe to take during pregnancy. Your doctor will need to increase your dosage to ensure your unborn baby develops properly. You will have regular thyroid level checks during pregnancy to ensure you’re taking the right dose. It’s also safe to breastfeed while taking levothyroxine.

Don’t stop taking your medication, and never take too much as this can cause serious side effects like osteoporosis and atrial fibrillation (irregular and fast heartbeat).

If your thyroid hormone levels are normal, you will not need treatment, but monitoring your levels over time is wise.

Clinical trials for Hashimoto’s disease

While there isn’t a cure for Hashimoto’s, researchers are always carrying out studies to find new treatments, better understand the disease, and hopefully find a cure.

Clinical trials take a long time, with several phases that need to be successful, requiring FDA approval at the end of the process for any new treatments. This can take many years, but being part of a trial means you get to try new treatments before they reach the market.

Although there are risks associated with clinical trials, they are heavily regulated. Doctors and researchers must adhere to the guidelines to ensure the safety and accuracy of the study.

If the treatment is not working or causing harm to any participant, the trial will be stopped immediately (either paused or halted indefinitely) to assure patient safety.

Participants are fully informed of the trial beforehand, and at every stage, so they can revoke their consent if they have concerns.

How do I find clinical trials near me?

One of the easiest ways to find a clinical trial is via an online service that compiles a list of all available clinical trials, describing them in an accessible way for the layperson. Here at HealthMatch, we understand it can be hard to find what you're looking for, so our clinical trial search has been specially designed to make the process easy.

Another website you can use is NIH’s,¹¹ or you can speak to your doctor.

The lowdown

Hashimoto’s disease is an autoimmune disease affecting the thyroid gland. Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system wrongly attacks the body’s healthy tissue.

Hashimoto’s is a chronic condition that you can manage with levothyroxine. Levothyroxine is a synthetic form of the hormone your thyroid produces, and you will need to take it daily for the rest of your life to keep your hormone levels balanced.

While there is no cure for Hashimoto’s disease, signing up for a suitable clinical trial may offer you the opportunity to try new treatments.

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.

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