Guest Author - Jim Lowrance
Autoimmune thyroid disease is the most common of all autoimmune diseases. Thyroid diseases in general affect an estimated 27- million Americans, 80% of those having the type causing "hypothyroidism" and is five to eight times more common in women than in men (statistics vary).
The majority of thyroid disorders are caused by autoimmune disease and result in either an under-functioning thyroid (HYPO-thyroidism) or an over-functioning thyroid (HYPER- thyroidism). The symptoms of each of these can be severe and very concerning to the person experiencing them. With hypothyroidism the thyroid gland is slowed down in its ability to produce and distribute "thyroid hormone", which are the cells designed to control the metabolism in our entire body. So the thyroid, in a sense, is like a thermostat that regulates the rate at which our bodies operate at. With hyperthyroidism the thyroid gland is sped up, producing and distributing too much thyroid hormone. As stated before, both of these are most commonly caused by autoimmune disease of the gland.
Autoimmune disease is an improper response by our own immune system because it should normally only direct this response against viruses, allergies, fungus and bacteria but at times, for reasons yet understood by medical science, it will direct this response against normal cells or organs, as if they are one of these intruders/invaders. The immune system does this by sending killer-cells called "antibodies", that literally attack and kill these unwanted enemies of our bodies. If these antibodies begin attacking an organ, such as the thyroid gland, they will relentlessly do so, until they cause damage to the gland and it begins to malfunction. This is the definition of autoimmune disease and it commonly involves the thyroid gland (thyroid autoimmunity).
Many times during these autoimmune attacks against the thyroid, the gland responds by swelling, as a result from the attack and damage occurring in the gland. This is called a "goiter", meaning a general-swelling of the gland from chronic inflammation. Other times the gland will begin developing small tumor-like growths on it, in response to the antibodies attacking, called "nodules". Nodules can be "hot" or "cold", meaning they can cause the thyroid to release too much thyroid hormone (hot) or they do not affect hormone production (cold). Hot nodules are seen more often in autoimmune hyperthyroidism, also called "Grave's Disease", while cold nodules are seen more often in autoimmune hypothyroidism, also called "Hashimoto's Autoimmune Thyroiditis".
Look for the article entitled; "Basics about Thyroid Disease Symptoms", to learn more about these diseases affecting thyroid hormone metabolism.
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