What is Autoimmune Thyroid Disease?

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  • Written By: Amy Hunter
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 16 November 2019
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Autoimmune thyroid disease is a condition that develops when the immune system begins to attack the thyroid cells. This disease will reduce, or even destroy the ability of the thyroid to function. The thyroid can be found under the skin, at the front of the neck. It is a tiny gland, weighing less than an ounce, but it has a great deal of responsibility. The thyroid gland produces hormones that are responsible for both metabolism and growth.

Roughly three-quarters of the people that develop autoimmune diseases are women, and most women who develop these problems are in their child-bearing years. There are two basic types of autoimmune thyroid disease, hypoactive thyroid and hyperactive thyroid. Each has its own unique set of symptoms, and each is treated differently.

Hashimoto's thyroiditis is the term for hypoactive, or under active, thyroid. In this autoimmune thyroid disease, the immune system attacks the cells of the thyroid. This blocks the production of thyroid hormone. The thyroid, in attempting to battle this condition, will continue to manufacture thyroid hormone, eventually leading to the development of a goiter. A goiter develops when the tiny thyroid gland becomes enlarged.


A person suffering from Hashimoto's disease will often experience fatigue, depression, and weight gain. They may also notice an increased sensitivity to the cold, constipation, and dry skin and hair. If left untreated, sufferers may notice the area around their eyes becoming puffy, a reduction in their heart rate, and a drop in their body temperature.

At its most advanced, Hashimoto's can lead to heart failure, and eventually death. If someone with Hashimoto's disease fails to seek treatment, they may be left with permanent damage to the heart. Treatment for Hashimoto's is daily supplementation of thyroid hormone replacement. This treatment is very effective.

Hyperactive thyroid, an autoimmune thyroid disease where the thyroid is overactive, is also known as Graves' disease. Although there are other forms of hyperthyroidism, Graves' is the most common form. When someone suffers from Graves' disease, their body produces abnormal antibody cells that stimulate the thyroid to over produce thyroid hormones. This activity will eventually lead to the development of a goiter, as the thyroid is being incorrectly stimulated to produce more hormone.

Symptoms of a hyperactive thyroid include weight loss, nervousness, and a rapid heart beat. People suffering from hyperthyroidism often experience difficulty sleeping, a decreased tolerance to heat, weakness, tremors, and changes in their vision and the appearance of their eyes. Fertility can also be affected by hyperthyroidism.

Hyperthyroidism is treated through medication. The thyroid can also be treated permanently by administering radioactive iodine. Some people choose to have their thyroid surgically removed, and then supplement the missing hormones through medication.



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