Women and Hashimoto’s Disease
Dramatic hormonal changes are a given for women during their lifetime. From the time menstruation begins, pregnancy is conceived to the change of life of menopause, women are very familiar with the ups and downs of their hormones. That’s why if a woman is feeling out of sorts but cannot quite put her finger on it, it could be a telltale sign of a thyroid disease called Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis or Hashimoto’s Disease.
Nearly 1 in 3 people have thyroid disease, but the majority of them are women. Yet more than half of those with a thyroid condition do not know they have it. The disease of Hashimoto’s is much more common in women than men usually appearing between 30 and 50 years of age and tends to run in families.
What is Hashimoto’s Disease?
The autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s disease is a condition that affects the thyroid gland. At the base of the neck, is a small gland called the thyroid. This 2-inch long butterfly-shaped gland sits at the front of the neck below the larynx or voice box. The thyroid is one of the glands making up the endocrine system which produces and stores hormones releasing them into the bloodstream when needed.
Hashimoto’s disease, also known as chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis or autoimmune thyroiditis, is a disorder affecting the thyroid gland and is the most common cause of hypothyroidism in the United States. It was named after a pathologist who in 1912 described the microscopic features of the disease and it can result in a gradual loss of thyroid functioning
At first, there are no symptoms of Hashimoto’s disease. Then as the disease slowly progresses, the thyroid enlarges and may cause the front of the neck to look swollen. This enlargement is most likely the sign of a bulge called a goiter. In the beginning, a goiter is painless but as they grow they can put pressure on the lower neck possibly interfering with breathing and swallowing.
Hashimoto’s disease may or may not develop hypothyroidism. In people who do develop hypothyroidism, the symptoms may be mild at first while eventually presenting with the following symptoms:
· Weight gain
· Cold intolerance
· Joint and muscle pain
· Constipation or fewer than three bowel movements a week
· Dry, thinning hair
· Heavy or irregular menstrual periods and problems getting pregnant
· Memory problems
· A slowed heart rate
Any woman who is experiencing any of the above symptoms of low thyroid function, does not necessarily mean they have Hashimoto’s disease, but reduced thyroid function often leads to this condition. It is advised that a woman with these symptoms should schedule an appointment with their doctor to rule out Hashimoto’s disease. Hashimoto’s disease may put a woman at a higher risk for other autoimmune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, and Celiac disease. Also, if a woman of childbearing age is not treated, she could suffer the risk of certain complications such as myxedema (severe hypothyroidism), birth defects in pregnant women, and goiter.
How Hashimoto’s disease affects pregnancy
Women who are having difficulty becoming pregnant should be evaluated for Hashimoto’s disease. Having hypothyroidism can affect ovulation making it more difficult to get pregnant. If a woman has already been diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease before conception, it is strongly advised to work with her doctor on making sure the thyroid is functioning properly. It is during the first trimester that the fetus relies on the mother for an adequate supply of thyroid hormone.
If there is not sufficient thyroid hormone during the first trimester for the developing baby, there is a risk of many complications, including preeclampsia or high blood pressure during pregnancy, anemia, miscarriage, postpartum bleeding, preterm birth, low birth weight, and birth defects. But as long as a woman is taking thyroid medications which are safe during pregnancy, this can be avoided.
What is the treatment for successfully dealing with Hashimoto’s disease?
There is no cure for Hashimoto’s disease, but it is treatable. Women who are diagnosed with it will need hormone therapy, a synthetic thyroid medicine taken as a pill. Here is what women need to remember when taking thyroid medication:
· It is important to stick with the same brand or generic thyroid medicine throughout the course of treatment to avoid possible changes in thyroid levels. There may be some differences in the level of active ingredient depending on who makes the medicine. Whether a woman takes a particular brand or generic, the important thing is to keep taking the same one.
· Take thyroid medication on an empty stomach with a glass of water and wait at least 30 minutes before drinking or eating anything. Many foods or drinks can interfere with absorption, including milk and coffee. The best time of day to take thyroid medication is first thing in the morning.
· Always take thyroid medication by itself and not with any other medications. Certain medications can interfere with the absorption of thyroid medication, such as calcium or iron supplements, and antacids containing calcium or aluminum. Wait at least 30 minutes before taking any other medications including any vitamin supplements.
· Routine blood tests are done checking on synthetic thyroid hormone and adjusting the dose as necessary. As long as a person takes their recommended dosage daily as instructed, the hypothyroidism can be controlled.