Hashimoto thyroiditis is the most common form of thyroid gland inflammation and the most frequent cause of decreased thyroid hormone production. The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped organ that lies flat against the windpipe in the throat.
It produces the hormones that play an important role in controlling the body's metabolism. The disease causes antibodies to react against proteins in the thyroid gland, causing gradual destruction of the gland itself, and making the gland unable to produce the thyroid hormones the body needs.
For many Hashimoto's patients, the thyroid becomes enlarged, a condition known as a goiter. The goiter can range from slight enlargement, which may have no other symptoms, to a substantial increase in size. Some people with Hashimoto's, especially those with a larger goiter, may feel discomfort in the neck area. Less commonly, swallowing or even breathing can become difficult if a goiter is blocking the windpipe or esophagus.
Hashimoto's typically involves a slow but steady destruction of the gland that eventually results in the thyroid's inability to produce sufficient thyroid hormones, known as hypothyroidism. However, during a patient’s lifetime, there can be periods where the thyroid functions as normal or displays hyperthyroidism (produces excess hormones), then returns to hypothyroidism. This back and forth cycling is characteristic of Hashimoto's disease. This might cause periods of anxiety, insomnia, diarrhea, and weight loss followed by periods of depression, fatigue, constipation, and weight gain.
In some cases, the onset of Hashimoto's and elevation of antibodies is accompanied by a variety of symptoms some of which include anxiety, difficulty sleeping, fatigue, weight changes, depression, hair loss, muscle/joint aches and pains, and fertility problems.