Most people who have a thyroid condition like Gigi Hadid does, will be suffering from either hypothyroidism (an under active thyroid) or hyperthyroidism (an over active thyroid). However, these fairly broad terms are used more to describe how the thyroid is functioning in relation to hormone production rather than being particular diseases in and of themselves.
The thyroid gland is responsible for producing the hormones T3 and T4 that regulate many of our metabolic processes such as growth and energy consumption.
Hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can be caused by any one of several disorders. One of the most common causes of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto’s Disease. Hashimoto’s Disease is also known variously as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, autoimmune thyroiditis, or chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis. The name comes from the doctor Hakaru Hashimoto, who originally described the disease in 1912.
Hashimoto’s Disease – The Causes
Hashimoto’s Disease occurs when the body’s own immune system starts to attack the thyroid gland. Just why this happens is not yet fully understand but current theories are that it is very likely to be the result of environmental and / or genetic factors such as:
- Bacterium or a virus
- A genetic defect – given that more women than men get Hashimoto’s disease, this theory is a popular one amongst medical researchers.
- Hereditary factors – the disease often runs in families which lends support to genetic / hereditary causes
- Age related – it’s more commonly found in older people.
Symptoms Of Hashimoto’s Disease
The onset of diseases like Hashimoto’s is very gradual. In many cases, the symptoms are also initially very minor so get ignored, or are attributed to various other health conditions. It may also be many years before the disease becomes so advanced as to seriously impact an affected person’s health.
Hashimoto’s is often diagnosed when other illnesses are being investigated, unless a specialist in thyroid disorders is consulted. But in general, the most common symptoms of Hashimoto’s include:
- Puffy face
- Brittle and dry hair that breaks easily, and loss of hair
- Coarse dry skin
- Oedema (retention of fluid)
- Changes in voice, including ongoing hoarseness
- Sudden gains in weight that are not attributable to changes in lifestyle or diet
- High blood cholesterol
- Menorrhagia (heavy menstrual bleeding)
- Forgetfulness, depression and other similar cognitive changes
- Sore, stiff joints, especially feet, hands and knees
- Constant tiredness and fatigue
- Susceptibility to feeling cold
Hashimoto’s Disease – The Effects
When the immune system attacks the thyroid gland, it causes inflammation in the thyroid tissues. This impedes the gland’s ability to produce thyroid hormones. Eventually the inflammation destroys the thyroid tissues, leading to permanently low thyroid levels. A condition called goitre, which is an enlarged thyroid, may develop as the thyroid gland keeps trying to produce thyroid hormones in response to the increasing amount of thyroid-secreting hormone (TSH) being produced by the pituitary gland.
Other health conditions that can occur because of the low thyroid hormone levels caused by untreated Hashimoto’s Disease include emotional issues brought on by depression and low libido. Thyroid hormones also help regulate blood cholesterol so sufferers of Hashimoto’s may find themselves with an increased risk of suffering from heart conditions like heart disease, an enlarged heart, and heart failure. Normal thyroid levels are especially important in pregnant women to prevent congenital birth defects in their unborn child such as cleft palate as well as brain, kidney and heart abnormalities.
A rare but very serious complication caused by Hashimoto’s Disease is Myxoedema. This condition can cause severe sensitivity to cold, abnormal sleepiness and in extreme cases coma or even death.
Diagnosing Hashimoto’s Disease
Hashimoto’s Disease is often picked up when a patient is being treated for other health conditions. Diagnostic procedures usually include looking at the patient’s family and medical history, a physical examination and undergoing blood tests to check blood levels of TSH, T4 and T3, and antibodies.
Treating Hashimoto’s Disease
The prognosis for most Hashimoto’s disease sufferers is extremely good once treatment commences. Most patients are put onto a life long course of thyroxine, a synthetic thyroid hormone, and undergo regular blood testing to monitor thyroid hormone levels. It’s important to note that taking this medication is permanent; if medication stops thyroid hormone levels will drop again and symptoms will return.
In more severe cases, such as advanced goitre, where the thyroid gland is so enlarged that it puts pressure on the oesophagus and windpipe, it may be surgically removed.