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Hashimoto's Disease (cont.)

What causes Hashimoto's thyroiditis?

The cause of Hashimoto's is thought to be a combination of a genetic predisposition along with an environmental trigger that starts the process of autoimmune destruction. What actually triggers the immune response against the thyroid gland remains unknown. Additional factors, including heredity, gender, and age, also play a role in developing this disorder.

Normally, the immune system acts to protect against viruses, bacteria, and foreign substances (antigens) that invade the body. In conditions of autoimmune disease, the immune system mistakenly attacks parts of the body itself. In the case of Hashimoto's thyroiditis, the immune system attacks the thyroid gland. The autoimmune process causes inflammation of the thyroid gland (thyroiditis) resulting in an impaired ability of the thyroid gland to produce hormones, leading to hypothyroidism. The pituitary gland responds by increasing TSH and attempting to stimulate the thyroid gland to produce more thyroid hormones. This can cause growth of the gland, or a goiter.

What are the risk factors for Hashimoto's thyroiditis?

Risk factors for Hashimoto's thyroiditis are:

  • Female gender: Women are 10-15 times more likely than men to develop Hashimoto's thyroiditis.
  • Family history: People who develop the condition often have a family history of Hashimoto's thyroiditis or other autoimmune disorders.
  • Excessive iodine intake: Excessive iodine intake is associated with a higher prevalence of Hashimoto's thyroiditis than is seen in people with mild iodine deficiency.
  • Radiation exposure: Radiation exposure has been shown to increase the likelihood of developing auto-antibodies to the thyroid gland.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/11/2016

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