Decoding Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis

An increasing number of women are getting afflicted with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis (Thinkstock)
An increasing number of women are getting afflicted with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis (Thinkstock)
Hollywood actress Zoe Saldana recently revealed that she suffers from Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, a condition where her immune system attacks her own thyroid gland, causing extreme muscle pain and tiredness. In an interview, the actress said, “Your body doesn’t have the energy it needs to filter toxins, causing it to believe that it has an infection, so it’s always inflamed. You create antibodies that attack your glands, so you have to eat clean.”
The actress, who admitted that her mother and grandmother also suffer from the condition, says that she now follows a gluten-free and dairy-free diet, apart from taking other precautions.

What is Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis?
So, what exactly is Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis? Diabetologist Dr Pradeep Gadge explains, “In Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, the immune system attacks the butterfly-shaped gland in the neck (thyroid). Initially, inflammation of the thyroid causes a leak resulting in excess thyroid hormones (hyperthyroidism). Over time, inflammation prevents the thyroid from producing enough hormones (hypothyroidism). Hashimoto’s disease typically progresses slowly over years and causes chronic thyroid damage, leading to a drop in thyroid hormone levels in blood.”
Adds Dr Parul R Sheth, a health consultant specialising in reproductive biology, “This is an autoimmune disease in which your immune system attacks your thyroid gland. This is a chronic condition but the good part is that it is treatable.”

Symptoms and diagnosis
Hashimoto’s disease progresses slowly over years. “You may not notice any signs or symptoms at first. The symptoms that you may see are that of hypothyroidism. These include fatigue, constipation, pale, dry skin, puffy face, hoarse voice, muscle ache, excessive or prolonged menstrual bleeding, increased sensitivity to cold and depression. Only if you have any of these symptoms, your doctor may test for thyroid hormones in the blood. An under-active thyroid can increase your thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) levels in the blood. An antibody test in the blood is another way to diagnose the disease. A blood test may confirm the presence of antibodies against thyroid peroxidase (TPO antibodies),” says Dr Sheth.

Adds Dr Gadge, “Symptoms also include unexplained weight gain — occurring infrequently and rarely exceeding 10 to 20 pounds, tenderness and stiffness, especially in your shoulders and hips, pain and stiffness in your joints and swelling in your knees or the small joints in your hands and feet. Diagnosis is based on your symptoms and the results of blood tests.”

Treatment generally includes observation and medications. “A daily dose of synthetic thyroid hormone levothyroxine is prescribed. This is identical to thyroxine, the natural version of the hormone made by your thyroid gland. You may have to take this medication lifelong. But your dosage may change so you need to check your TSH levels every six to 12 months,” says Dr Sheth.
“If there’s no evidence of hormone deficiency, and your thyroid is functioning normally, your doctor may suggest a wait-and-see approach. If Hashimoto’s disease causes thyroid hormone deficiency, you may need replacement therapy with thyroid hormone,” confirms Dr Gadge.

Higher incidence among women
The incidence of Hashimoto Thyroiditis is estimated to be 10-15 times higher in women. “The most commonly affected age group is between 30 to 50 years, with peak incidence in men occurring 10 to 15 years later. The overall incidence of hypothyroidism increases with age in men and women. Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is an autoimmune disorder. Unfortunately, there is no known way to prevent it. However, on the bright side, this disorder is treatable. The sooner you get diagnosed, the sooner you can start receiving treatment,” ends Dr Gadge.


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