Hashimoto's thyroiditis, also called autoimmune thyroiditis or Hashimoto's disease, occurs when the immune system attacks the patient's thyroid gland, causing the thyroid to swell. The thyroid gland, located in the neck, produces a hormone called thyroxine that controls growth and the rate at which the body uses energy (metabolism).
Hashimoto's thyroiditis is a type of autoimmune disorder. In healthy individuals, the immune system fights off harmful invaders, such as bacteria and viruses, which cause infections and disease. Autoimmune disorders occur when the immune system attacks body cells because they are mistaken for harmful invaders. Autoimmune disorders can destroy body tissues, cause abnormal organ growth, and/or impair organ function.
The inflammation caused by Hashimoto's disease often leads to an underactive thyroid gland, called hypothyroidism. When hypothyroidism develops, another gland in the body, called the pituitary gland, releases hormones to stimulate the thyroid to release more hormones. This may lead to an enlarged thyroid gland called a goiter.
With treatment, patients are able to live normal, healthy lives. Patients receive medications called hormones for the rest of their lives to make up for the underactive thyroid. Some patients may need to have their thyroid gland surgically removed. With lifelong hormone supplementation, these patients are also able to live normal, healthy lives.
Hashimoto's thyroiditis is the most common cause of hypothyroidism in the United States. Although the condition can develop at any age, it is most common among middle-aged women.
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