Patients with Hashimoto’s Disease (autoimmune hypothyroidism) often have esophageal problems, too. About eight inches long, the esophagus is a muscular tube behind the windpipe and heart. It connects the stomach and the throat and prevents food from traveling down the windpipe. The esophagus has a sphincter at both its upper and lower end; and though everyone has conscious control over their upper sphincter, for breathing and eating, there is no voluntary, conscious control over the lower sphincter that connects to the stomach.
The lower esophageal sphincter is called the LES, and it performs an important task: preventing acid and consumed food from going backwards into the throat. When this sphincter isn’t working properly, several different problems may arise. In a thorough, natural way, I address these esophageal and digestive problems in Hashimoto’s patients, in my Functional Medicine practice—both in the office and in long-distance treatment, nationwide. For more information, I offer a 15-minute phone consultation, which can be scheduled on the Contact Us page or by calling (704) 853-8000.
Motility Problems and Hashimoto’s Hypothyroidism
Gastrointestinal motility describes the action of contents moving through the throat, esophagus, stomach and the rest of the digestive tract. Sphincter muscles contract and move food along, but if those muscles don’t perform well, food can remain too long in one part of the digestive tract. The lower esophageal sphincter (the LES) often weakens in Hashimoto’s patients, which means the sphincter doesn’t close tightly enough to prevent stomach acid from entering the esophagus. In this case, the patient will experience heartburn: a burning sensation in the chest, under the breastbone, and sometimes an acidic taste in the mouth. Heartburn is made worse by lying down or bending after eating.
The Risk for Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
When stomach acid enters the esophagus frequently, the disorder is called GERD. The risk for GERD is greater if someone is overweight, which is often the case in the following situations:
- the patient lacks the proper amount of thyroid hormone
- the patient may be taking thyroid hormone but isn’t converting the inactive T4 form of thyroid hormone into the active T3 form;
- the patient has too much stress and cortisol, which impedes T3 from getting into thyroid receptor sites and benefiting the body;
- the patient has too much inflammation from a poor diet, which also impedes available thyroid hormone from being able to be used by the body
In my Functional Medicine practice, I see many poorly diagnosed and inadequately treated Hashimoto’s patients. They often fall into one of the four categories above, because traditional physicians are likely not to treat Hashimoto’s comprehensively, as a whole-body autoimmune disorder. Therefore, many patients suffer with symptoms long after they have been taking supplemental thyroid hormone.
Untreated or inadequately treated Hashimoto’s patients are also likely to have cardiovascular problems, such as high blood pressure. If a patient is taking a calcium channel blocker to treat high blood pressure, he or she is even more at risk for GERD. Also, depression, insomnia and anxiety are classic symptoms of either untreated or under-treated Hashimoto’s Hypothyroidism. Patients taking tricyclics for depression or sedatives for anxiety are also at greater risk for developing GERD.
Esophageal Stricture, Spasms and Barrett’s Esophagus
Chronic exposure to stomach acid in the esophagus can cause problems like esophageal stricture (narrowing or tightening of the esophagus) or esophageal spasms. When stomach acid and other irritants damage the lining of the esophagus, esophageal tissue may narrow or spasm. While eating, patients feel as though their food is “stuck” on its way to the stomach. The feeling of fullness in the throat or chest is very uncomfortable. Another possible complication of GERD is Barrett’s esophagus, a premalignant state in which normal cells are replaced with abnormal cells, but this rarely progresses into an adenocarcinoma.
Esophageal problems are common among Hashimoto’s patients. In my practice, I guide patients into a diet and lifestyle that promotes esophageal and digestive health. See our Success Stories for encouraging testimonials or call (704) 853-8000 for a free, 15-minute phone consultation.