In this article
Did you know that Hashimoto’s disease is the leading cause of hypothyroidism? While the exact number of those affected by Hashimoto’s is unknown, about 5 out of 100 Americans over 12 years of age old have hypothyroidism.
Regardless of the cause of hypothyroidism, those with hypothyroidism will likely seek treatment to help ease their symptoms. Since Hashimoto’s causes hypothyroidism, you may wonder if the treatment options for Hashimoto’s and hypothyroidism are the same.
In this article, we’ll explore the differences between Hashimoto’s and hypothyroidism, as well as treatment options.
Hypothyroidism is a general term that refers to an underactive thyroid. When you’re hypothyroid, your thyroid doesn’t produce enough essential thyroid hormones – T4 (thyroxine) and T3 (triiodothyronine) – to meet your body’s demands.
- Thyroid cancer or surgery
- Radiation therapy
Although rare, some people are born with a missing or dysfunctional thyroid – this is known as congenital hypothyroidism.
Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune thyroid disorder, meaning your immune system attacks and destroys your thyroid cells. Due to this destruction, your thyroid gland can’t make enough thyroid hormone to meet your body’s needs. The result is an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism). Hashimoto’s and hypothyroidism have the same set of symptoms, such as:
- Cold intolerance
- Memory issues
- Weight gain
- Joint and muscle weakness and pain
- Depression and anxiety
- Hair loss
- Dry skin and hair
- Brittle nails
- Menstrual cycle irregularities
Hypothyroidism is typically diagnosed based on your symptoms and your thyroid hormone levels. The best way to determine your thyroid function is through monitoring thyroid biomarkers via the following thyroid tests:
- Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) is a pituitary hormone that tells your thyroid to produce and release more thyroid hormone. The TSH test measures the amount of TSH in your blood. An elevated TSH level indicates hypothyroidism.
- Free Thyroxine (Free T4) shows the available levels of T4 in your bloodstream. The majority of thyroid hormone secreted from your thyroid gland is in the form of T4. When measured along with TSH, your healthcare provider gets a good view of your thyroid’s function. A low free T4 level may indicate an underactive thyroid disorder.
- Free Triiodothyronine (Free T3) measures the amount of T3, the active thyroid hormone, in your bloodstream.
Besides abnormalities in the above thyroid hormone levels, people with Hashimoto’s will almost always have evidence of thyroid autoimmunity, specifically elevated Thyroid Peroxidase (TPO) antibodies or thyroglobulin (TG) antibodies in the bloodstream.
The presence of thyroid antibodies in blood tests does not show how well your thyroid functions. Instead, it indicates an autoimmune disorder is likely present. It is possible to have thyroid antibodies in your blood but not have abnormal thyroid biomarkers or overt thyroid disease. Sometimes other autoimmune disorders, such as type 1 diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis, produce thyroid antibodies.
To recap, people with hypothyroidism typically have a high TSH with low free T4 and free T3 thyroid levels. People with Hashimoto’s test positive for thyroid antibodies and may have an elevated TSH with low free T4 and free T3 levels.
They can be. It all depends on the degree of hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s.
Individuals with borderline or subclinical hypothyroidism may present with mild hypothyroidism symptoms. The TSH level may be slightly elevated, but T4 and T3 levels will be within normal limits. In contrast, those with overt hypothyroidism present with hypothyroidism symptoms and a marked increase in TSH with low free T4 and free T3 levels.
About 80% of those with subclinical hypothyroidism have thyroid antibodies. Despite the presence of thyroid antibodies, it doesn’t mean you have overt Hashimoto’s, though it is a risk factor. Just under 5% of those with TPO antibodies progress from subclinical to overt hypothyroidism. But when TPO antibodies are absent, less than 3% of patients go from subclinical overt hypothyroidism.
The treatment for those with overt hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s is the same: thyroid hormone replacement therapy to optimize thyroid function. These medications replace your natural thyroid hormone when your body can’t produce enough, increasing levels to a normal range and optimal function. Replacing missing thyroid hormones can relieve symptoms of an underactive thyroid gland by allowing your cells to function correctly.
Both synthetic hormone and natural hormone treatments are available for hypothyroidism. The three thyroid medication options for the treatment of hypothyroidism include:
- Levothyroxine (Synthroid, Levoxyl, Unithroid, Euthyrox, Tirosint): a synthetic version of the T4 hormone
- Liothyronine (Cytomel): a synthetic form of the T3 hormone
- Desiccated thyroid (Armour Thyroid, NP Thyroid): an animal-derived combination of natural T3 and T4
Treating subclinical hypothyroidism with thyroid replacement medication is controversial. Some providers may recommend treating it based on your symptoms and medical history, while others may recommend periodic monitoring without drug treatment.
Thyroid hormone replacement medications are generally not recommended for Hashimoto’s patients with TPO antibodies but normal thyroid biomarkers and no hypothyroidism symptoms. If lab values become abnormal or you develop symptoms, your healthcare provider may start exploring treatment options.
The best way to tell if Hashimoto’s autoimmune thyroid disease is the underlying cause of hypothyroidism is by checking for thyroid auto-antibodies. Our at-home testing kit makes diagnostic tests for TPO antibodies a cinch. All it requires is a finger prick blood sample to be mailed in. Not only will it test your TPO levels, but it will also report your TSH and free T4 and T3 levels giving you a complete picture of your thyroid function.
In addition to medication, Hashimoto’s and hypothyroidism patients also benefit from the comprehensive lifestyle approaches integrated into Paloma’s care philosophy, including:
- Addressing any vitamin and nutritional deficiencies and imbalances
- Incorporating anti-inflammatory and Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) principles into your diet
- Prioritizing your sleep, maintaining hydration, getting physical activity, and managing stress levels
You can book an appointment with one of Paloma’s experienced thyroid health care providers, who will help you discuss a thyroid hormone replacement and lifestyle treatment plan to help ensure relief of your hypothyroid symptoms, optimal thyroid function, and overall wellness.