Since the public announcement by Zoe Saldana that she has been diagnosed with Hashimoto's thyroiditis, I have been bombarded with lots of great questions about what it is, how it's diagnosed and how it's treated. There are entire books and medical conferences dedicated to this topic, but I will briefly answer the bulk of the questions that I have received. In Part 1 of the series, I'll cover what an autoimmune (AI) disease is, what Hashimoto's is, and the common symptoms of this disease.
1. What is an autoimmune (AI) disease?
An autoimmune disease manifests when the immune system directs an abnormal response to its own host body.
2. How does Hashimoto's differ from other AI diseases?
The main difference is that in Hashimoto's the thyroid gland is the target of the immune system, whereas in other AI conditions, other organ systems can be the target, such as joints in rheumatoid arthritis, or the gastrointestinal tract in inflammatory bowel diseases (Crohn's disease and Ulcerative colitis)
3. Who does Hashimoto's affect most and is it genetic?
If not, how is it most commonly diagnosed?
There definitely appears to be a genetic susceptibility, and more women than men have it. Just to be clear, you can be diagnosed with an AI condition without a family history, but if there is autoimmunity in your family history, you are statistically at a higher chance of developing one.
Like many autoimmune conditions, genetic predisposition requires a trigger by an environmental factor such as infection, a dietary protein (like gluten), or an environmental chemical. Some more recent literature also suggests that a breakdown in the intestinal barrier can be a predisposing factor, and that once that barrier system is compromised immune triggers are allowed to get deeper into the body, causing the immune and inflammatory systems to get fired up.
4. What are symptoms?
The common symptoms of Hashimoto's thyroiditis are:
- Dry skin
- Increased sensitivity to cold
- Menstrual irregularities, heavy and excessive bleeding
- Muscle and joint pain
- Muscle weakness
- Thinning hair
- Weight gain
- For pregnant women, increased risk of miscarriage
If you think you may be suffering from Hashimoto's Thyroiditis or another AI disease, the first step is to see your doctor and get lab tested.
Stay tuned for our next installment - if you have Hashimoto's or another AI disease in your family history, can you prevent the disease in yourself? We'll look at that question as well as treatment plans.