Many permanent or temporary conditions can reduce thyroid hormone secretion and cause hypothyroidism. About 95% of hypothyroidism cases occur from problems that start in the thyroid gland. In such cases, the disorder is called primary hypothyroidism. (Secondary hypothyroidism is caused by disorders of the pituitary gland. Tertiary hypothyroidism is caused by disorders of the hypothalamus.)
The two most common causes of primary hypothyroidism are:
- Hashimoto's thyroiditis. This is an autoimmune condition in which the body's immune system attacks its own cells.
- Overtreatment of hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid).
Autoimmune Diseases of the Thyroid
Hashimoto's thyroiditis, atrophic thyroiditis, and postpartum thyroiditis are all autoimmune diseases of the thyroid. An autoimmune disease occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the body's own healthy cells. In the case of autoimmune thyroiditis, a common form of primary hypothyroid disease, the cells under attack are in the thyroid gland and include, in particular, a thyroid protein called thyroid peroxidase. The autoimmune disease process results in the destruction of thyroid cells.
Hashimoto's Thyroiditis. The most common form of hypothyroidism in the U.S. is Hashimoto's thyroiditis, a genetic disease named after the Japanese doctor who first described thyroid inflammation (swelling of the thyroid gland). Women are about 7 times more likely than men to develop this disease.
|Click the icon to see an image of Hashimoto's thyroiditis.|
An enlargement of the thyroid gland, called a goiter, is almost always present and may appear as a cyst-like or fibrous growth in the neck. Hashimoto's thyroiditis is permanent and requires lifelong treatment. Both genetic and environmental factors appear to play a role in its development.
Review Date: 05/03/2011
Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.