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Glandular Autoimmune Diseases

Tuesday 10 November 2020
Autoimmune Disorders
6 minute(s) read

Table of Contents

I. Thyroid Diseases

a. Hashimoto’s Disease

b. Graves’ Disease

II. Addison’s Disease

a. Symptoms

III. Sjogren’s Syndrome

a. Symptoms

IV. Treatments

Autoimmune diseases are one of the leading causes of death and disability in the United States. Over 23.5 million Americans have autoimmune diseases. [1]  Autoimmune disorders occur when the immune system malfunctions and produces antibodies that attack body functions. Antibodies are typically produced when there is an invader in the body, like harmful bacteria. But in autoimmune problems, antibodies are created for an unknown reason and begin to attack the body.

The location of these antibody attacks is random in most cases, but you may be at risk for autoimmune disorders if you have a family history of certain autoimmune diseases. The glands of the body are often attacked, which can lead to several unpleasant symptoms. Diseases of the thyroid gland and Addison’s disease and Sjogren’s syndrome are common glandular disorders. Read on to learn more about autoimmune medications like Synthroid (levothyroxine), hydrocortisone, and prednisone to treat gland-related autoimmune disorders. [1]

Thyroid Diseases

The thyroid gland is an endocrine gland that creates the hormone thyroxine and triiodothyronine. This gland lies in the front of the neck, with two lobes that lie on either side of the windpipe. Thyroid diseases are fairly common disorders that occur mainly in women. Thyroid hormones are necessary for a properly functioning body. Around one in 20 people have a thyroid disorder. They can be permanent or temporary.

a man’s upper body bathed in red light

If the thyroid gland is malfunctioning, too much (hyperthyroidism) or too little thyroid hormones (hypothyroidism) are released into the blood. These conditions can lead to unpleasant symptoms in the body. [2]

a. Hashimoto’s Disease

Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks the thyroid gland. This leads to a lack of thyroid hormones in the body, causing hypothyroidism. Hashimoto’s is the leading cause of hypothyroidism. Doctors do not know why antibodies attack the thyroid, but they believe it is due to a combination of genetics, sex, and age. You are at a higher risk of Hashimoto’s if you already have an autoimmune disease.

This condition can occur in anyone but is more common in middle-aged women. You may not notice hypothyroidism at first, but you should seek help if you feel tired for no reason, have dry skin, or suffer from constipation. It is important to seek Hashimoto’s treatment because this condition can result in a goiter (an enlarged thyroid gland), heart problems, mental health issues, and congenital disabilities. [3]

Symptoms of Hashimoto’s can include:

  • Fatigue and sluggishness
  • Joint pain and stiffness
  • Hair loss
  • A puffy face
  • Increased sensitivity to cold
  • Depression
  • Prolonged menstrual bleeding
  • Brittle nails
  • Unexplained weight gain
  • Muscle weakness [3]

b. Graves’ Disease

This type of thyroid disorder results in hyperthyroidism, or too many thyroid hormones. Unlike Hashimoto’s, Graves’ is more common in younger women. Those with Graves’ may experience Graves’ ophthalmopathy, which is an eye disorder that affects the muscles and tissues around the eyes. Graves’ dermopathy can also result in the skin becoming reddened or thickened. This dermopathy most often occurs on the shins or tops of the feet.

You are at a higher risk of Graves’ if you have a family history of the condition, are under 40 years old, are under stress, pregnant, or smoke cigarettes. It is important to seek treatment for Graves,’ or you may experience complications like pregnancy issues, brittle bones, or heart disorders. In rare cases, a thyroid storm may also occur. A drastic increase in thyroid hormones can cause a thyroid storm, leading to fever, sweating, vomiting, and diarrhea. [4]

Symptoms of Graves’ can include:

  • Anxiety
  • Change in menstrual cycles
  • Fatigue
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Enlargement of the thyroid gland (goiter)
  • Heat sensitivity
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Weight loss, despite normal eating habits [4]

a man scrunching his eyes shut

Addison’s Disease

Addison’s disease is an autoimmune disorder that affects the adrenal glands. Adrenal glands are endocrine glands that produce hormones like adrenaline, cortisol, and aldosterone. Adrenal glands are located above the kidneys and help regulate the metabolism, blood pressure, immune system, and response to stress. [5] When someone has adrenal insufficiency, the glands produce too little cortisol and too little aldosterone. This disorder is typically uncommon, and symptoms develop slowly.

Addison’s disease can damage the adrenal glands, or an immune response attacks the glands.  The glands have two layers: the medulla (interior) and cortex (outer layer). The interior produces the adrenaline-like hormones, and the outer layer produces corticosteroids. These corticosteroids include:

Glucocorticoids: These important hormones convert food into energy and are responsible for the body’s inflammatory response to stress.

Androgens: Androgens are male sex hormones that cause sexual development in men and are responsible for sex drive and muscle mass in men and women.

Mineralocorticoids: Hormones like aldosterone keep the body’s balance of sodium and potassium to keep the blood pressure normal. [6]

a. Symptoms

Symptoms of adrenal insufficiency occur slowly, and people may not notice any symptoms for several months. The symptoms are often worsened if you already have adrenal problems and experience an injury or illness. Common symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Craving salty foods
  • Low blood sugar
  • Muscle or joint pains
  • Depression
  • Body hair loss
  • Sexual dysfunction in women
  • Weight loss
  • Decreased appetite [6]

Sjogren’s Syndrome

In Sjogren’s syndrome, the immune system attacks the glands that make tears and saliva. This disorder can also affect any part of the body that needs moisture, like the nose, mouth, throat, skin, and vagina. Over time this disorder can affect the joints, kidneys, blood vessels, digestive organs, and nerves. This disease occurs most commonly in women and begins after the age of 40. Your risk for Sjogren’s is increased if you already have rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. [7]

Certain genes can put you at risk of developing Sjogren's. If Sjogren’s is not treated, it can lead to eye and mouth complications, including yeast infections and vision problems. Treatment for this disease focuses on alleviating symptoms. [8]

an up-close photo of a person’s eyes

a. Symptoms

As mentioned earlier, dry eyes and dry mouth are the most common symptoms. Other common symptoms may include:

  • Dry mouth that feels like cotton and makes it challenging to swallow or speak
  • Dry eyes that burn, itch or feel gritty
  • Swollen salivary glands
  • Joint pain, swelling, and stiffness
  • Prolonged fatigue
  • Skin rashes
  • Dry skin
  • Persistent dry cough [8]


Glandular autoimmune disorders can wreak havoc on the body, and several medications are available to prevent inflammation of affected glands. Prednisone and hydrocortisone can be taken to relieve pain and inflammation caused by Sjogren’s or Addison’s disease. These medications dampen the body’s immune response, preventing inflammatory symptoms. [9]

For thyroid problems, there are specific drugs that can help with thyroid hormones. If you are experiencing hypothyroidism with Hashimoto’s disease, you will likely be prescribed Synthroid (levothyroxine) to replace missing thyroid hormones in the body. If your thyroid produces too much thyroid hormone, you may take medications like Tenormin (atenolol). Tenormin is a beta-blocker that can help reduce heart disease and heart palpitations associated with hyperthyroidism. You may also take antithyroid medications like Tapazole (methimazole) to limit the number of thyroid hormones in the blood. [10]

The content in this article is intended for informational purposes only. This website does not provide medical advice. In all circumstances, you should always seek the advice of your physician and/or other qualified health professionals(s) for drug, medical condition, or treatment advice. The content provided on this website is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.