There are many thyroid disorders that are caused by autoimmune processes, or disease processes that result from the body’s immune system targeting its own tissues. Two of the more common disorders are Graves’ disease and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
Graves’ disease is a condition that causes an overactive thyroid or hyperthyroidism. It is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism in the United States and can range from a hyperactive thyroid which can cause insomnia, heat intolerance, palpitations, and can even cause life-threatening hyperthyroidism, called thyrotoxicosis. Graves’ disease can cause eye problems as well. Otolaryngologists (ENTs), endocrinologists, and ophthalmologists work together in the treatment of the disorder. Treatment entails medical therapy for hyperthyroidism, as well as ablation of the thyroid via radioactive iodine treatment or surgery.
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is a condition that causes an underactive thyroid or hypothyroidism. It is the most common cause of hypothyroidism in the United States and can range from a hypoactive thyroid which can cause fatigue, cold intolerance, weight gain, high cholesterol, and can even cause life-threatening hypothyroidism (also termed myxedema coma). Hashimoto’s thyroiditis often leads to destruction of the gland and scarring and can lead to the development of an enlarged gland (termed a goiter). Often times this goiter can compress the windpipe or esophagus and causes breathing or swallowing problems. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is usually treated with thyroid hormone replacement when it causes an underactive thyroid. Occasionally thyroid surgery is required if a patient has a goiter that causes symptoms.