Women go through many hormonal changes throughout their lifetime, from pregnancy to menopause, which can leave them feeling a little run down, chilly, dry and with irregular menstrual periods. But did you know that these are also telltale symptoms of a thyroid disorder called Hashimoto’s disease?
Hashimoto’s disease is an autoimmune disorder that leads to a lower release of thyroid hormones. It is one of the most common cause of hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) a condition that affects around 800,000 Australians and 150,000 New Zealanders. It is 7 times more likely to affect women than men. And yet, anyone can get it, including children.
Named after a Japanese researcher who first described it in 1912, Hashimoto’s disease (also called autoimmune or chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis) occurs when the immune system attacks the thyroid. The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of the neck. The attack by immune antibodies can lead to chronic inflammation and the inability of the thyroid to produce enough thyroid hormone to keep the body functioning normally. The reason for this, as with most autoimmune disorders, is not well understood. However, people who have family members with the disease may be at a higher risk for developing it themselves.
Don’t Ignore the Signs and Symptoms
In many women, it may be hard to tell the difference between Hashimoto’s disease and other hormonal conditions, such as menopause, because the symptoms can be similar. Possible signs and symptoms of Hashimoto’s disease include:
- Difficulty concentrating or thinking
- Dry skin
- Enlarged neck or presence of goiter (caused by enlarged thyroid gland)
- Hair loss
- Heavy and/or irregular periods
- Difficulty achieving or maintaining pregnancy
- Intolerance to cold
- Mild weight gain
If you experience these symptoms, it is important to speak to your doctor right away. Hashimoto’s disease may put you at higher risk for other autoimmune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes and Coeliac disease. And if you don’t treat it, you may suffer the risk of certain complications such as myxedema (severe hypothyroidism), birth defects in pregnant women, and goiter.
Having symptoms of low thyroid function does not necessarily mean you have Hashimoto’s disease. But reduced thyroid function often leads to Hashimoto’s disease.
Hashimoto’s Disease and Pregnancy
Hypothyroidism can affect ovulation and make it more difficult for a woman to get pregnant. If you are diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease and you do become pregnant, it is advised that you work with your doctor regularly (about every 6-8 weeks during pregnancy) to make sure your thyroid is functioning properly. Keep in mind that the fetus relies on the mother for an adequate supply of thyroid hormone during the first trimester.
Without enough thyroid hormone, there is a risk of many complications, including: Preeclampsia or high blood pressure during pregnancy, anaemia (not enough oxygen due to low number red blood cells), miscarriage, postpartum bleeding, preterm birth, low birth weight babies, birth defects, and other problems. Treatment for Hashimoto’s disease during pregnancy is needed and is safe for both the mother and baby.
There is no cure for hypothyroidism caused by Hashimoto’s disease, but it is manageable. Talk to your doctor for more information and advice.
Dr. Diana Dills is a Senior Director for the Cardiovascular and Metabolic Team at Pfizer.
- 1. Vanderpump MP, et al. The incidence of thyroid disorders in the community: a twenty-yearfollow-up of the Whickham Survey. Clin Endocrinol 1995; 43(1):55-68. Accessed 17/2/2017.