What Are Thyroid Antibodies?
Unless you’ve been in a biology or immunology class recently, you may not be familiar with antibodies. Antibodies are a normal part of our immune system. Your body makes them in order to “tag” or “mark” foreign bacteria or viruses that are harmful. Once tagged, your immune system can recognize these foreign invaders and fight them off.
The antibodies that occur in Hashimoto’s Disease (or any other autoimmune disease) are different. They are AUTO-antibodies. Which means that they are ‘marking’ your own thyroid tissue. This isn’t good – we don’t want your immune system attacking your own body!
Essentially, elevated thyroid antibodies indicate that your immune system has targeted the thyroid gland for destruction. Over time, this can damage your thyroid tissue and make it impossible for your body to produce its own hormones.
What do Thyroid Antibodies Mean?
Thyroid antibodies are the most important tests to diagnose Hashimoto’s disease. If you test positive for one or both of these antibodies, you have Hashimoto’s disease.
- Thyroid Peroxidase Antibodies (TPOAb) – present in approximately 90% of those with Hashimoto’s disease
- Thyroglobulin Antibodies (TgAb) – present in approximately 80% of those with Hashimoto’s disease.
If you haven’t already done so, I recommend testing your antibodies if you already have or suspect hypothyroidism. Hashimoto’s disease isn’t just hypothyroidism – it’s an autoimmune disease, and needs to be treated as an autoimmune disease!
The First Thing You Should Do When You Find Out You Have Thyroid Antibodies…
It’s important to know that Hashimoto’s disease does have a genetic link. So, it’s very common to see Hashimoto’s present in multiple family members (typically females). For that reason, when I have a patient with positive antibodies one of the first things I tell them is to talk to their family. Tell your mother, sisters, daughters, and aunts to have their thyroid antibodies tested as well, especially if they already know they have low thyroid function. The sooner we can identify antibodies and regulate the immune response, the more likely it is that we will be able to prevent damage to the thyroid gland. BUT, just because a relative has Hashimoto’s doesn’t mean you’re destined for it too. Genes only play a part of the picture!
Have more questions about thyroid antibodies? Let me know!
Dr. Katie Rothwell, ND