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Hashimoto's disease (Chronic Lymphocytic Thyroiditis)

Woman and illustration of thyroid gland in neck

What is Hashimoto's disease (chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis)?

Hashimoto's disease is a condition in which your immune system attacks your thyroid, which causes inflammation. This leads to an under-active thyroid gland (hypothyroidism).

Your thyroid gland is a small butterfly-shaped gland at the base of your neck below your Adam's apple. It produces hormones that control many bodily functions, such as metabolism, digestion, circulation, and it is part of your endocrine system.

Hashimoto's disease may also be called chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis, and it is the most common cause of hypothyroidism. Although it may occur at any age, it most commonly affects middle-aged women.

What are the symptoms of Hashimoto's disease?

Hashimoto's disease typically progresses slowly over many years, and many people with the condition may not notice any signs or symptoms at first.

Some people may notice a swelling at the front of their throat (this is called a goiter). Eventually, damage to the thyroid gland causes a drop in thyroid hormone levels in the blood, leading to symptoms, such as:

  • Brittle nails
  • Constipation
  • Depression
  • Dry skin
  • Enlargement of the tongue
  • Hair loss
  • Joint pain
  • Memory lapses
  • Muscle aches, tenderness and stiffness or weakness
  • Pale, dry skin
  • Prolonged or excessive menstrual bleeding
  • Puffy face
  • Sensitivity to cold
  • Tiredness or sluggishness
  • Unexplained weight gain

How is Hashimoto's disease diagnosed?

See your doctor if you have any symptoms suggestive of Hashimoto's disease. Your doctor will perform a blood test to check how your thyroid gland is functioning.

Periodic testing of your thyroid hormones will be needed thereafter.

How is Hashimoto's disease treated?

Treatment for Hashimoto's disease may include a period of observation if there is no evidence of hormone deficiency or replacement therapy with the synthetic hormone levothyroxine. If you need levothyroxine, you usually need it for the rest of your life.

Synthetic levothyroxine is identical to thyroxine, which is made naturally by your thyroid gland. This medication restores hormone levels to normal and reverses all the symptoms of hypothyroidism.