Ask a Doctor
My aunt was recently diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. I had never heard of this thyroid condition before my aunt received her diagnosis. She doesn’t seem worried, but I am. What does Hashimoto’s disease do to you? What are the symptoms and signs?
The signs and symptoms of Hashimoto's thyroiditis are the same as those of hypothyroidism. The disease is slow to progress, and the onset of symptoms is gradual. It may take years for true hypothyroidism to develop.
The signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism vary widely, depending on the severity of hormone deficiency. Some of the complaints experienced by those with hypothyroidism include:
- Mental fogginess and forgetfulness
- Feeling excessively cold
- Dry skin
- Fluid retention
- Non-specific aches and stiffness in muscles and joints
- Excessive or prolonged menstrual bleeding (menorrhagia)
- Weight gain
- Puffiness in the face
- Infertility (difficulty getting pregnant)
- Thinning, brittle hair
- Hair loss
- Slow heart rate
- Irregular menstrual periods
- Decreased sweating (perspiration)
- Thick or brittle nails
- Decreased reflexes
- Swollen hands and feet
- Cold skin
These signs and symptoms can increase in severity as the condition worsens.
The complications of Hashimoto's thyroiditis are the same as those of an underactive thyroid gland.
Goiter: As described above, the pituitary will try to stimulate production of thyroid hormone in an underactive thyroid gland affected by Hashimoto's thyroiditis. This may cause the gland to become enlarged. Unlike a thyroid nodule, in which only a part of the gland is enlarged, in this case the entire gland enlarges, a condition known as a goiter. Goiterous glands are usually no more than a cosmetic nuisance. However, in extreme cases, growth of the gland may cause impingement on the esophagus or the trachea, impairing swallowing and breathing, respectively.
Cardiac complications: Prolonged hypothyroidism that may result from untreated Hashimoto's thyroiditis also may be associated with an increased risk of heart disease. The heart disease may be directly related to hypothyroid effects on the heart, causing changes in contraction and rhythm that may lead to subsequent heart failure. There may also be indirect influences, such as hypercholesterolemia (an increase in "bad" cholesterol is often seen with hypothyroidism).
Psychiatric complications: Depression may occur early in Hashimoto's thyroiditis and if underlying depression exists, the addition of Hashimoto's may worsen the condition. Patients may complain of mental fogginess or slowing of reaction times, and a decrease in sexual desire is often observed.
Myxedema coma: In its severest form, untreated hypothyroidism may result in a rare life-threatening condition called myxedema or myxedema coma. There is mental slowing, profound lethargy, and ultimately coma. This is a life-threatening emergency.