Hashimoto's Disease - Definition and Characteristics

Understanding Hashimoto's disease

nurse checking patient's thyroid
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Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis, Autoimmune thyroiditis

Medical Specialties: 

Endocrinology, Family practice, Internal medicine

Clinical Definition:

Hashimoto's disease, or chronic thyroiditis, is a common thyroid gland disorder triggered by an autoimmune reaction against the thyroid gland, which can prevent it from producing sufficient amounts of thyroid hormone. Signs and symptoms of thyroid deficiency include poor concentration, temperature intolerance, and weight gain.

Diagnosis is aided by blood tests that measure thyroid function. Thyroid replacement therapy is one treatment option.

In Our Own Words:

Hashimoto's disease is a common cause of an underactive thyroid gland, or hypothyroidism. It typically develops slowly and is caused by the immune system acting against the thyroid gland. If this results in hypothyroidism (not enough thyroid hormone), symptoms can include difficulty with concentration, fatigue, intolerance to cold, mild weight gain, facial swelling, and joint stiffness. 

More Information About Hashimoto's Disease

Hashimoto's disease, or Hashimoto's thyroiditis, accounts for as much as 90 percent of all cases of hypothyroidism. Hashimoto's disease is an autoimmune disease where the body attacks itself by means of antibodies. More specifically, people with Hashimoto's disease exhibit anti-TPO and antithyroglobulin antibodies. 

People with Hashimoto's disease often develop other autoimmune diseases, such as Sjogren syndrome and pernicious anemia.

Conversely, people with autoimmune disease are at increased risk of developing Hashimoto's disease. These autoimmune diseases include the following:

  • vitiligo (skin condition)
  • Addison's disease (adrenal gland condition)
  • type 1 diabetes
  • celiac disease
  • autoimmune hepatitis
  • rheumatoid arthritis

Of note, Hashimoto's disease occurs more often in pregnant women; specifically, at most 5 of 1000 pregnant women experience Hashimoto's disease.

Although firm enlargement of the thyroid typically occurs in people with Hashimoto's disease, the thyroid can also atrophy, or shrink. Initially, people with Hashimoto's disease can have elevated TSH levels and normal T4 (thyroid hormone) levels.Furthermore, increased uptake of radioactive iodine, a clinical test, is also evident. However, after a person has lived with Hashimoto's disease for some time and symptoms become more severe, levels of thyroid hormone decrease.

Hashimoto's disease is usually treated once symptoms of hypothyroidism are evident. When there's no evidence of hypothyroidism, however, physicians sometimes treat the disease to decrease the size of a goiter, or thyroid enlargement, caused by this condition. Symptomatic Hashimoto's disease is treated with synthetic thyroxine like Synthroid. In people receiving synthetic thyroid hormone, blood levels or thyroid hormone are routinely checked to ensure that a person isn't receiving too little or too much medication. 

On a final note, untreated hypothyroidism secondary to Hashimoto's disease or other conditions that occur during pregnancy can hurt the baby and cause of a host of other conditions including miscarriage, premature birth, and preeclampsia (a dangerous rise in blood pressure).


Harvard Medical School. "Medical Dictionary of Health Terms." 2013.

The Cleveland Clinic. "Thyroid Disease Description.'' Diseases & Conditions. 2013.

University of Maryland Medical Center. "Chronic thyroiditis (Hashimoto's disease)" Medical Encyclopedia. May 2013.

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