While both conditions relate to the thyroid, they are not one in the same. Much like a square is a rectangle but not all rectangles are squares, the two are often linked but not interchangeable. Hypothyroidism is the state of low levels of thyroid hormone in the body. Hashimoto’s meanwhile is an autoimmune condition in which the immune system attacks the thyroid tissues.
So why are they often lumped together? In most cases of hypothyroidism in the US, Europe, Canada, and other nations who add iodine into their salt supplies, the cause of the disease isn’t an iodine deficiency but instead Hashimoto’s. Some estimates put the crossover in the United States at up to 97% of those affected by hypothyroidism as actually having Hashimoto’s.
Wouldn’t a doctor diagnose Hashimoto’s if their patient was suffering hypothyroidism? Unfortunately, this is not the usual case. Many times the doctor see that the thyroid isn’t functioning properly and work to address those symptoms, not necessarily to test further. The answer to hypothyroidism is ‘simple,’ synthetic thyroid hormones. This, of course, doesn’t address the underlying cause of Hashimoto’s.
Further, it is entirely possible to suffer from Hashimoto’s without having hypothyroidism develop yet. The tests for hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s look for different markers, and as such, one won’t be diagnosed while searching for the other. This is why it is critical for anyone who suffers from the symptoms of Hashimoto’s (fatigue, depression, joint stiffness, muscle weakness, weight gain, cold sensitivity, constipation, slow heart rate, or swelling of arms and legs) to receive testing for it sooner rather than later. Studies have shown that thyroid antibodies (which indicate Hashimoto’s) can be present in a person up to a decade before they develop thyroid impairment. If Hashimoto’s is caught early enough the years of suffering and progression to hypothyroidism can be prevented.
Testing for Hashimoto’s
If it is so important then to test for Hashimoto’s how do you do so? Thyroid ultrasounds and blood tests can both be utilized to diagnose. Blood tests will indicate the presence of one of two types of antibodies: TPOAb (thyroid peroxidase antibody) and/or TGAb (thyroglobulin antibodies.) TPOAb is present in up to 95% of Hashimoto’s cases while TGAb is found in around 80%. With these antibodies appearing up to a decade before a change in TSH (thyroid stimulating Hormone) the early, accurate diagnosis of Hashimoto’s can prevent the thyroid from suffering sufficient damage to cause it to cease producing enough thyroid hormone.
If you find yourself suffering from any of those symptoms previously listed, or are a part of an at-risk population (Hashimoto’s runs in families, is up to 8 times more common in women) it is important to get the correct tests. Here is a list of the key 6 tests to ask your doctor for to diagnose Hashimoto’s and hypothyroidism.
- TSH (thyroid stimulating antibodies)
- Free T3
- Free T4
- TPOAb (thyroid peroxidase antibodies)
- TGAb (thyroglobulin antibodies)
- Thyroid Ultrasound
With these results in hand, patients will be on their first critical step to living with Hashimoto’s.
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