What are Autoimmune Thyroid Diseases?

The leading cause of hyperthyroidism is an autoimmune disease called Graves’ Disease.

The leading cause of hypothyroidism is an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.

Autoimmune diseases in general

Autoimmune diseases tend to run in families. In other words, there is a strong genetic predisposition to develop one or more autoimmune diseases. Females are affected five times more than men by autoimmune disease. Patients with other autoimmune diseases are more likely to develop autoimmune thyroid diseases.

Researchers are trying to unlock the mysteries of autoimmune diseases, but there are still many unanswered questions. Basically an autoimmune disease occurs when the immune system produces antibodies that attack healthy tissues. In Graves’ disease, the immune system produces anti-thyroid antibodies that cause the thyroid gland to make too much thyroid hormone. In Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, antithyroid antibodies damage the thyroid gland and prevent it from producing enough thyroid hormone.

Autoimmune diseases associated with a higher than normal rate of thyroid autoimmune diseases

  • vitiligo (patchy loss of skin coloration)
  • alopecia areata (sudden, circular hair loss)
  • premature gray hair
  • pernicious anemia (inability to absorb B12)
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • myasthenia gravis (episodic muscle weakness that can affect vision, speech, swallowing, and breathing )
  • Lupus erythematosus ( connective tissue disorder)
  • insulin-dependent diabetes
  • Addison’s disease (adrenal insufficiency)
  • premature ovarian failure

Tests for antibodies present in autoimmune thyroid disease

  • TPOab (thyroperoxidase antibodies)
  • TGab (thyroglobulin antibodies)

One of these two types of antibodies is found in nearly all patients with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and in approximately 50% of patients with Graves’ disease.

  • TRab (thyrotropin receptor antibodies; also called thyroid stimulating immunoglobulins or thyroid stimulating antibodies.)