About Hashimoto's Disease

Dr. Hashimoto
Other Names for this Disease
Medical Sourcebooks and Dictionaries

General Description:

The thyroid gland wraps around the base of the throat in a butterfly shape and secretes thyroid hormone that affects the body's metabolism.  Hashimoto's disease is an hereditary autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks an organ of its own body, in this case the thyroid.

In Hashimoto’s disease antithyroid peroxidase (anti-TPO) antibodies are present in blood serum, and lymphocytes infiltrate the thyroid gland. This often causes enlargement or goiter, yet some patients experience atrophy or shrinking of the gland.  The parenchyma, or functional tissue of the gland, is progressively destroyed and replaced by lymphocytes or fibrous tissue.  Thyrotropin, secreted from the pituitary gland and known as thyroid stimulating hormone or TSH, increases in the patients serum as thyroid reserves are depleted.  At some stages of this destruction, excess thyroid hormone, T3 and T4, may be released causing temporary hyperthyroid states. If hormone levels rise very high they can cause Hashimoto’s toxicosis.  Eventually enough tissue may be destroyed that thyroid hormone can no longer be adequately produced, resulting in a condition called hypothyroidism or in its extreme, life-threatening myxedema.  Medical treatment often involves replacement of thyroid hormone, levothyroxine or T4.  According to Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine, “The treatment of hypothyroidism by the administration of thyroid hormone is probably as successful as any therapeutic measure in medicine.”

This disease develops slowly and it may remit or may remain subclinical.  It is estimated to affect in about 3 to 4% of the U.S. population.  It is most common in women over 30, and it occurs frequently among family members. When it occurs in children it may slow growth, making it especially important to seek treatment.  There is well documented co-occurance of Hashimoto's with other autoimmune diseases, such as Type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and Lupus erythematosus, in what are termed “autoimmune polyglandular syndromes.” Both Hashimoto’s and Graves’ Disease are autoimmune reactions that attack the thyroid and a patient can have both diseases.  Hashimoto’s disease may occur transiently during pregnancy, and recent studies have investigated co-occurrances with disorders ranging from carpal tunnel syndrome to thyroid cancer.  It has also been suggested that increased iodine ingestion in the United States may explain its larger incidence here than in Europe.

Other Names:

Hashimoto’s thyroiditis has been described by many names in the literature and it may be necessary to use several of these when searching the indexes and other sources.  One note of caution: Hashimoto-Pritzker disease is a completely distinct disorder discovered by a different Dr. Hashimoto.

Medical Sourcebooks and Dictionaries:

Dictionaries: Consumer Sourcebook: Medical Texts:

Last updated Dec. 13, 1998
Developed by Mary O. Walker  mowalker@scils.rutgers.edu
for Information Resources for Medical and Health Sciences 610:581
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