Can Hashimotos Cause Anemia?
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, also known as Hashimoto’s disease, is one of the most common autoimmune diseases in the United States. Yet a lot of people don’t know very much about it. Before I was diagnosed, I didn’t either.
It’s a disease in which the immune system attacks the thyroid gland, leading to inflammation and cellular damage. The thyroid gland is responsible for producing hormones that regulate metabolism, and Hashimoto’s can interfere with this process.
One potential complication of Hashimoto’s is anemia. Anemia is a condition in which the body does not have enough red blood cells to carry oxygen to the tissues.
For that reason, I wanted to dedicate this post to talking about how Hashimoto’s can cause anemia and what to expect when it happens. I’ll also share what you can do to alleviate your symptoms and hopefully avoid this complication altogether.
Can Hashimotos Cause Anemia?
For a short answer, yes. But let me explain in more detail for you. Hashimoto’s patients are often iron deficient, which causes a variety of complications.
Symptoms to watch out for include chronic fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath, pale skin, and cold hands and feet. Some other symptoms to take notice of are brain fog or a state of confusion, forgetfulness, and lack of mental clarity. It can make it really difficult to concentrate, remember information, and even perform daily tasks.
These are all symptoms I have personally dealt with before.
People with autoimmune thyroid disease often experience malabsorption of nutrients, including iron. Studies report that 45% to 65% of people with hypothyroidism have iron deficiency anemia, compared to 29% of the non-hypothyroid general population.
How Does Hashimoto’s Cause Anemia?
Iron Deficiency Anemia
This is when your body doesn’t absorb iron enough to produce hemoglobin, a protein found in red blood cells that carries oxygen to the tissues. When your body doesn’t absorb enough iron, or when your iron drops due to bleeding, it cannot produce enough red blood cells. Enter anemia. Here are some possible causes of iron-deficiency anemia:
- Women’s menstrual cycle: Women who have heavy menstrual periods are at a higher risk of developing iron deficiency anemia. They lose more iron each month compared to those lucky ladies with a lighter flow.
- Decreased absorption of iron in the intestinal tract: People with Hashimoto’s may have a difficult time absorbing iron from their meals due to autoimmune gastritis. A condition that causes the immune system to attack the cells responsible for producing stomach acid. This, in turn, can interfere with the absorption of iron and lead to anemia.
- Celiac disease: This condition causes the immune system to attack the lining of the small intestine when gluten is consumed. This can lead to malabsorption of important nutrients, including iron. And it’s for this reason that I have completely cut gluten from my diet.
- Chronic inflammation: This is a common sign of autoimmune disease, including Hashimoto’s. When chronic inflammation is present, it can interfere with your red blood cell production.
Women with Hashimoto’s who still have menstrual periods should have their iron checked regularly to catch any deficiencies.
Vitamin B12 Deficiency Anemia
Also known as pernicious anemia. Hashimoto’s disease can affect your body’s vitamin B12 intake. This vitamin is essential for red blood cell production. Hashimoto’s can decrease your body’s ability to absorb vitamin B12, leading to anemia.
Anemia of Chronic Disease
Rather than a deficiency in iron, this type of anemia is a result of chronic inflammation or infection. Anemia of chronic disease can occur when your body’s immune system responds to chronic infections or inflammatory diseases. During this response, your immune system produces a variety of substances called cytokines. In turn, these cytokines will interfere with the production of red blood cells. And thus, affect iron levels.
What To Do When Your Hashimoto’s Leads To Anemia
You can find out if you have anemia by having a quick blood test (or complete blood count) done by your doctor or endocrinologist. This examination checks your hemoglobin levels, a vital indicator of anemia. There are other tests you can get results from, including a complete blood count or serum ferritin levels, depending on the kind of anemia you have. While you’re there, be sure to ask your endocrinologist these important questions.
Confirm The Type Of Anemia You Have
Determining the type of anemia you have in relation to Hashimoto’s disease will come from the blood testing performed by your doctor. If your hemoglobin or red blood cell counts are lower than normal, this will indicate that you have anemia. Additionally, the blood test can also show if the size and shape of your blood cells are normal. Abnormal size and shape may indicate a specific type of anemia.
Treat The Underlying Cause Of Your Anemia
Once you have narrowed down the cause of your anemia, treatment will be based on what your body is lacking. This can include iron supplementation, vitamin B12 shots, herbal supplements, change in diet, or anti-inflammatory thyroid medication.
Eat A Balanced Diet
A diet that is high in iron or vitamin B12 can help manage anemia caused by Hashimoto’s disease. Iron-rich foods include red meat, dark green leafy vegetables, and fortified breakfast cereals. Vitamin B12 is found in animal products such as meat, eggs, and dairy.
If you follow a plant-based diet, like me, vitamin B12 can be found in nutritional yeast, fortified foods, cereals, mushrooms, and some algae.
Monitor Your Progress
I hope by the time you get to this point, your pain is relieved, and you are on the right track to getting your healthy body back. Along with the plan that you and your doctor put in place, such as routine blood tests, monitoring your symptoms can be very rewarding.
I highly recommend taking notes down in a journal when you experience chronic fatigue, weakness, or show any symptoms of a Hashimoto flare-up. Monitoring your progress is super important and helps you determine which treatment process is working best for you.
If you’re experiencing anemia in connection with Hashimoto’s, you’re not alone.
Unfortunately, anemia is a very common symptom of Hashimoto’s. The good news is – you’re not alone, and there are steps you can take to help you regain control of your overall health.
I know from experience how daunting, yet rewarding, committing to these lifestyle changes can be. If you’re in need of support along your journey, be sure to stay up to date on the blog, where I often post about my personal experiences with Hashimoto’s as well as the experiences of other Autoimmune Warriors like yourself.