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In Hashimoto’s disease, the immune system produces antibodies that attack your thyroid gland, usually resulting in hypothyroidism. But if you’ve had your thyroid surgically removed, does that eliminate or cure Hashimoto’s disease? Can you still have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis after surgically removing your thyroid gland? Ahead, we’ll explore the answers to this intriguing question.
What is Hashimoto’s disease?
Your thyroid gland is the sole organ responsible for making and producing thyroid hormones. Thyroid hormones are essential, helping regulate many of your body’s functions, including metabolism. When your thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone, it is considered underactive, and an underactive thyroid causes a medical condition called hypothyroidism.
One of the most common causes of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune disorder. When you have Hashimoto’s, your immune system produces antibodies that attack the thyroid gland, leading to the death of the thyroid’s hormone-producing cells. This process usually results in a decline in hormone production and damage to the gland, leading to hypothyroidism.
Hashimoto’s disease is also known as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis, and chronic autoimmune thyroiditis.
Women are more likely to develop Hashimoto’s disease than men, and it’s most common among middle-aged women.
Hashimoto’s disease can, in some cases, progress slowly, but eventually, the decline in thyroid hormone production can result in the common symptoms of hypothyroidism, including:
- Brain fog
- Coarse hair
- Hair loss
- Cold intolerance
- Dry skin
- Joint and muscle aches
- Memory impairment
- Weight gain
How is Hashimoto’s diagnosed and treated?
Hashimoto’s is primarily diagnosed with the Thyroid Peroxidase (TPO) antibodies test. Elevated levels are indicative of an autoimmune attack on the thyroid gland.
In some cases, Hashimoto’s can be detected during a thyroid nodule biopsy or pathology assessment of a surgically-removed thyroid gland.
The primary treatment for Hashimoto’s disease is taking thyroid hormone replacement medication to replace the hormone that the thyroid gland can no longer produce and restore thyroid hormone levels to normal.
Is surgery a treatment for Hashimoto’s?
In some cases of Hashimoto’s, the thyroid becomes so painful, an enlarged thyroid impairs swallowing or breathing, or the damage to the thyroid gland is so severe that thyroidectomy – surgery to remove the thyroid gland -- has emerged as a potential treatment option.
A 2019 study compared symptom relief from thyroid hormone replacement medications versus a thyroidectomy. Patients in this study had persistent Hashimoto symptoms with high thyroid peroxidase (TPO) antibodies. The immune system makes TPO antibodies to identify thyroid cells for destruction.
After thyroidectomy, TPO antibodies dropped significantly, with most patients reporting the resolution of their symptoms. In contrast, those taking thyroid hormone replacement medication, who did not undergo thyroidectomy, saw a slight decline in TPO antibodies. This group also reported no change in their health survey or fatigue scores.
A small 2020 study reinforced these results. Participants had normal thyroid levels while taking thyroid medication but still had persistent Hashimoto symptoms, affecting their quality of life. Like the above 2019 study, participants had a very high TPO antibody level.
After the thyroidectomy, over 60% of the participants reported improved health. Most even reported an increase in their energy levels. The majority, over 80%, were pleased with their decision to undergo a thyroidectomy, with half reporting fewer:
- Doctor’s appointments
- Thyroid medication changes
- Days with concentration problems, low mood, and intrusive pain
Can you have Hashimoto’s after thyroid surgery?
After removing your thyroid gland, your body doesn’t have any way of making thyroid hormones on its own. Therefore, surgery to remove the entire thyroid gland always results in hypothyroidism and requires lifelong treatment with thyroid hormone replacement. But thyroid patients often wonder if it’s possible to have autoimmune Hashimoto’s disease after the thyroid has been surgically removed.
The answer is yes. Even after the thyroid gland is removed, the immune system can still produce antibodies that attack the thyroid gland.
While antibody levels typically drop significantly after thyroid surgery, they can remain elevated, indicating that the autoimmune Hashimoto’s is still active.
Some Hashimoto’s patients who have had their thyroid removed report continued symptoms after thyroidectomy, including fatigue, joint and muscle tenderness, dry mouth, and dry eyes, weight gain, and depression.
How is post-thyroidectomy Hashimoto’s treated?
Patients with Hashimoto’s post-surgery receive the same treatment as Hashimoto’s patients with a thyroid gland. Hypothyroidism requires thyroid hormone replacement therapy to optimize thyroid function.
Comprehensive management of Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism also benefits from lifestyle changes, including:
- Correcting underlying vitamin and nutrient deficiencies
- Incorporating anti-inflammatory and Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) principles
- Prioritizing your sleep, hydration, activity, and stress management
A note from Paloma Health
A comprehensive approach to treating Hashimoto’s and hypothyroidism – even after surgical thyroid removal – can help improve your symptoms and quality of life.
Our experienced thyroid practitioners at Paloma Health take a personalized approach to managing hypothyroidism. So, if you live with Hashimoto’s and an underactive thyroid and are wondering about your treatment options, schedule a free consultation with one of our care team members.