Dr. John Heary is a New York-based medical professional specializing in treating patients with type 2 diabetes and hypothyroidism through functional medicine and nutrition. In the following article, Dr. John Heary discusses the link between Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and other autoimmune disorders, who is at risk, and how to spot symptoms and take action.
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (HT), an autoimmune disorder that is relatively simple to treat, can nonetheless have a big impact on a person’s life, especially because of its link to other, more serious autoimmune conditions and heart complications that may arise if it is left untreated.
Dr. John Heary notes that being diagnosed with one autoimmune condition has been shown to significantly increase the risk of developing others. Since Hashimoto’s disease impacts the thyroid gland, which regulates many hormonal and bodily functions, it is especially important to watch for signs of possible comorbidities and symptom progression.
Below, a brief overview of how and why Hashimoto’s develops, its link to other autoimmune conditions, and strategies to minimize its impact and progression.
Dr. John Heary Details Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis
Being diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder can cause complications in every area of a person’s life, including physical health, dietary tolerances, sleep, and mental health. Research has also shown that developing any one autoimmune disease, in which the body attacks its own healthy cells, increases the risk of being diagnosed with one or more others.
Dr. John Heary explains that Hashimoto’s affects the thyroid gland, which plays an important role in regulating the body’s hormone production. Although the specific cause of Hashimoto’s is unclear, its onset likely results from a genetic predisposition being triggered by factors related to a person’s environment, experiences, or lifestyle.
While anyone can develop the condition, having a family history of other thyroid or autoimmune conditions increases a person’s risk of developing Hashimoto’s. The likelihood of being diagnosed also rises with age, and it is also more common for women to be diagnosed than men.
Dr. John Heary says that as a result of the thyroid’s hormonal dysregulation, patients with Hashimoto’s often experience hypothyroidism, which slows down the body’s metabolic processes. Severe hypothyroidism can cause the thyroid to swell and enlarge, resulting in a goiter, a visible swelling on the neck.
Other symptoms of Hashimoto’s include:
- Chronic fatigue
- Mental fog
- Dry skin
- Fluid retention
- Weight gain
- Decreased body temperature
- Bodily aches
- Brittle nails
Hashimoto’s and Other Autoimmune Disorders
Hashimoto’s is the most common autoimmune disease in the U.S. and is relatively simple to treat. In most cases, patients who receive treatment for Hashimoto’s, which often involves taking hormone replacement medication, have a normal life expectancy, especially when they receive an early diagnosis.
Since the symptoms of Hashimoto’s are broad and can easily be attributed to other conditions or environmental triggers, it can often go undiagnosed for years. Dr. John Heary explains that the disease often progresses slowly, which may make symptoms difficult to notice at first and thus delay diagnosis.
When left untreated, Hashimoto’s can drastically increase a person’s risk of developing another autoimmune disorder, such Addison’s disease, lupus, type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, vitiligo, celiac disease, and multiple sclerosis, to name a few.
A recent cross-sectional study found that even when other demographic factors are accounted for, HT often co-occurs with multiple non-thyroidal autoimmune diseases (NTADs) in both children and adults. The study also found that the association between Hashimoto’s and NTADs increases with age.
Research published earlier this year has even suggested that Hashimoto’s, and the hypothyroidism for which it often accounts, may precede the development of systemic lupus erythematosus, a serious autoimmune condition more commonly known as lupus.
Dr. John Heary also notes that longstanding evidence also reflects that untreated Hashimoto’s can contribute to heart disease, thyroid cancer, and other potentially life-threatening conditions.
Strategies to Manage Hashimoto’s
As Hashimoto’s has a documented correlation with genetic inheritance, those experiencing symptoms who have a family history of Hashimoto’s or other autoimmune diseases should seek a medical examination and blood tests as soon as possible. As with most medical conditions, early diagnosis and intervention can help prevent HT progressing to a more serious concern.
Dr. John Heary says that the most common treatment for Hashimoto’s is hormone replacement therapy, which involves a synthetic form of thyroxine, or T4. This treatment is generally well-tolerated and can be administered for long periods of time without complications.
In addition to medication, there are also certain dietary choices that can help alleviate symptoms. One of the most common dietary interventions for autoimmune conditions is to go gluten-free, which may reduce the inflammation associated with the body attacking its own healthy cells.
Those struggling with a leaky gut, in which the hyper-permeability of the gut walls allows undigested food to seep into the bloodstream, may also choose to adopt a paleo diet, which removes dairy and almost all grains. Over time, those who adopt these restrictions are encouraged to reintroduce these foods gradually to isolate those causing their inflammation.
While Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is relatively easy to treat and can be managed long-term with functional nutrition, or hormone replacement medication, it commonly co-occurs with other autoimmune diseases and, if left untreated, may also lead to the development of heart conditions associated with prolonged hypothyroidism.