Untreated thyroid disease may be slowing you down

Man exercising to prevent thyroid disease

"Approximately 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease and, of those, 60% are unaware of their condition," says Michael F. de Lota, MD, Family Medicine at ARC Kyle Plum Creek. Hashimoto's thyroiditis, an autoimmune disorder involving chronic inflammation of the thyroid, is the most common cause of hypothyroidism in the US.

What is Hashimoto's thyroiditis?

"The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located in the front of the neck that usually cannot be felt with our hands. It secretes thyroid hormones which play a vital role in nearly every organ system of our bodies like development of the brain and nervous system, regulation of mood, energy levels, temperature, metabolism and weight change, hair, skin and nail growth, digestion, and heart rate," says Dr. de Lota recently in this article in Austin Fit magazine. "Generate too little of it (hypothyroidism), and your body feels "slower" than usual, causing slow heart rate, tiredness, depression and constipation. Hypothyroidism can also cause a slow metabolism, which leads to weight gain. Generate too much (hyperthyroidism) and the pendulum swings in the other direction, making your body function "faster," causing rapid heart rate, anxiousness and jitters, diarrhea, and a faster metabolism, leading to weight loss."

What are the symptoms of Hashimoto's disease?

"Hashimoto's is classified as an autoimmune condition in which the body develops antibodies that attack the thyroid gland and gradually break it down," says Dr. de Lota.

While many people may not feel symptoms at first, over time the thyroid begins to produce insufficient levels of hormone leading to a variety of hypothyroidism symptoms such as:

  • fatigue
  • weight gain
  • frequently feeling cold
  • constipation
  • joint and muscle pain
  • dry and thinning hair
  • in women, heavier periods or other period changes
  • difficulty getting pregnant.
  • occasionally, an enlarged thyroid gland, called goiter

What are the causes of Hashimoto's disease?

While it is unclear why the body develops Hashimoto's, several risk factors to Hashimoto's thyroiditis have been identified:

Hashimoto's is seven times more likely to appear in women than men and often appears between the ages of 40 and 60.

It does not exclusively affect older people as it is also the most common cause of hypothyroidism in children.

There also seems to be a genetic component, as patients with Hashimoto's are more likely to report a family or personal history of other autoimmune diseases (diseases where the body develops antibodies that attack its own organs) such as Type 1 diabetes, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

Finally, environmental factors such as very little or very high iodine intake, low selenium intake, childhood weight gain and being overweight or obese by age 14 have all been linked with increased Hashimoto's incidence.

Diagnosis of Hashimoto's

"Doctors typically diagnose Hashimoto's by taking note of their patients' histories and listening closely for those telltale hypothyroidism symptoms," says Dr. de Lota. "The diagnosis is then confirmed by checking blood tests for high levels of Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) as well as Thyroid Peroxidase Antibody."

Treatment of Hashimoto's

"Since people with Hashimoto's can no longer produce sufficient thyroid hormone, treatment usually entails taking a daily thyroid hormone replacement called Levothyroxine, a synthetic version of the body's natural thyroid hormone," says Dr. de Lota. "Although this condition is permanent and medication supplementation is typically lifelong, the prognosis for Hashimoto's thyroiditis is very good and, once treated, it does not shorten one's lifespan nor should it diminish one's quality of life."

If you have questions about your thyroid or you feel like you have some of the classic symptoms, you could be one of those millions of Americans who are unaware of a thyroid condition. Let your doctor know and work with them to find the right solution.

Make an appointment today

If you'd like to make an appointment with Dr. de Lota, you can either book online or by calling ARC Kyle Plum Creek at 512-295-1333.

Tags: Thyroid Disease