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Autoimmune Thyroid Disease

Posted Dec 06 2010 8:31pm

There are two different autoimmune diseases in which an immune system
dysfunction targets the thyroid - Graves' disease and Hashimoto's disease. In the
United States, the vast majority of thyroid patients are either hypothyroid or
hyperthyroid due to an autoimmune disease.
Hashimoto's disease is the most common form of thyroiditis, an inflammation of the
thyroid, and so the condition is also often referred to as Hashimoto's thyroiditis. It is
far more common than Graves' disease, and is the cause of most hypothyroidism in the U.S. In Hashimoto's, antibodies react against proteins in the thyroid, causing
gradual destruction of the gland itself. Occasionally, before the thyroid is destroyed, it
has thyrotoxic periods -- known as Hashitoxicosis -- during which the thyroid
overproduces thyroid hormone. Eventually however, the gland's attack on itself
destroys the ability to produce the thyroid hormones the body needs.

Symptoms of Hashimoto's disease usually parallel the hypothyroidism that results, however, the thyroid can
periodically sputter into life during Hashitoxic periods, causing hyperthyroidism symptoms. For most
people, treatment is for hypothyroidism and involves life-long thyroid hormone replacement. Holistic and integrative
approaches tend to look at healing the underlying autoimmune imbalance, and may
include nutritional support for the thyroid (i.e., selenium, tyrosine, B vitamins, etc.)
and overall support for the immune system.
Graves' disease -- sometimes referred to as diffuse toxic goiter because of the usual
presence of a goiter -- typically causes hyperthyroidism. In the U.S., it's thought that
Graves' disease and hyperthyroidism affect slightly less than 1 percent of the US
population, or slightly less than 2.9 million people. Some experts believe, however,
that as many as 4 percent of Americans, or 11.8 million people, may have a mild,
subclinical Graves' disease, with few or no symptoms, but exhibit blood test
evidence of slight hyperthyroidism.

In Graves' disease, autoantibodies bind to the gland, which causes the thyroid to
overproduce hormone, and cause hyperthyroidism. Treatment for Graves' disease
follow hyperthyroidism treatment, and involves antithyroid drugs, radioactive iodine
ablation, or surgical removal of the thyroid. Most Graves' disease patients end up
hypothyroid over time, requiring life-long thyroid hormone replacement.

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