by Kimberly Allen R.N.
Hashimoto’s Disease also known as chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis is a autoimmune disease effecting the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland sits in the front of the throat just below the “adams apple.” It is responsible for the production of the hormones that regulate the metabolic processes in our bodies including temperature, heart rate and metabolism.
Hashimoto’s disease is the most common cause of hypothyroidism. When hypothyroidism occurs the thyroid gland becomes enlarged, known as a goiter, and there is a gradual loss of function.
Hashimoto’s disease tends to run in families and is most commonly diagnosed in middle-aged women. However, it can affect younger ages as well – as I learned first hand. When I was 8 years old, my teacher, who also happened to be the principle of the little school I attended, came walking up my driveway one Sunday after church. I was sitting outside under a tree resting when I saw her and I distinctly remember the sick feeling I had when she asked if my mother was home. Wanting to lie, but knowing better I told her where my mother was. Approximately 10 to 15 minutes later she left smiling and saying good-bye. Within minutes my mother called me into the house. Wondering what I had done I headed for the door. When I got inside, shaking on the inside, my mother started looking at my neck and feeling the area around my adams apple. Then she looked at me and said she’d call the doctor in the morning. I still had no idea what was going on, but Monday afternoon I was at the pediatricians office and from there was admitted to the hospital. At that time no one had ever heard of an 8 year old having Hashimoto’s disease.
The symptoms of Hashimoto’s disease vary from patient to patient and can go unnoticed especially if the disease progresses slowly. Some of the more noticeable symptoms, like the ones my teacher noticed, are the appearance of an enlarged thyroid gland, known as a goiter. It can be enlarged to the point where you can’t see the adams apple and the neck can be red in appearance. Chronic fatigue and decreased cognitive function, feeling cold even when it’s warm and facial swelling are also common.
Today, Hashimoto’s disease can be treated with thyroid replacements such as levothyroxine (synthroid). In the mid 1960’s treatment was not as easy. For one thing, the medications available today were not available then and those that were available had not been used on an 8 year old, according to my pediatrician. At that time, the focus of treatment was on iodine and iodine replacement so my pediatrician told my parents they needed to get me to eat as much iodized salt as they could. To this day I can’t eat meals without salt.
Left untreated Hashimoto’s disease can lead to other complications including muscle weakness and failure including heart failure. It can also disrupt growth in children and adolescents, especially girls,require close monitoring as the thyroid gland controls the hormones that regulate the reproductive system causing the menstrual cycle to be irregular. I had been told by my Drs that it was very unlikely that I would be able to have children. Fortunately with the improved medications available i was able to have children. With early detection and treatment you can lead a normal life, though you will always have to have your thyroid function monitored for any needed adjustments in medication.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.