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What is thyroiditis?

Written by: Mr James Kirkby-Bott
Edited by: Lisa Heffernan

The thyroid is the butterfly-shaped gland in your neck that produces hormones to control your body’s growth and metabolism.

Thyroiditis is inflammation of the thyroid gland. Mr James Kirkby-Bott talks about why the thyroid becomes inflamed and what can be done to treat the inflammation.

What are the symptoms of an inflamed thyroid?

  • Discomfort in the neck
  • Voice changes; it may feel as if you’ve lost your voice
  • Difficulty or discomfort swallowing; it might feel that there’s something stuck in your neck or throat

Symptoms can also be more widespread such as:

  • Tiredness
  • Restlessness
  • Aches and pains
  • A feeling of being unwell

Thyroiditis can also cause abnormal thyroid functioning whereby either too much or too little thyroid hormone is produced, causing under-activity or overactivity of the thyroid.

An underactive (hypothyroid) thyroid causes lethargy, skin changes, hair loss, reduced appetite, constipation, and depression and mood changes.

An overactive thyroid can cause lethargy or overactivity (that causes lethargy), increased appetite, increased bowel opening, palpitations and anxiety.


Why would my thyroid be inflamed?

Inflammation of the thyroid usually occurs from either a short-lived viral illness or more commonly as part of an autoimmune condition such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or even Grave’s disease.


How long does an inflamed thyroid last?

A short-lived viral illness could last a few weeks, whereas an autoimmune condition is more likely to be lifelong, though any symptoms may disappear after a period of several months.

Usually, the inflammation increases the blood supply to the gland and this can cause an overactive gland - hyperthyroidism. As the inflammation continues, the gland will stop working as well as normal and become underactive or hypothyroid. After years the gland itself can almost become undetectable as it destroys itself.


How do you treat an inflamed thyroid/thyroiditis?

Thyroiditis can be detected with a blood test to measure the presence and amount of an antibody against the thyroid called thyroid peroxidase. Thyroiditis should not be treated with surgery, but occasionally a thyroid that does need surgery can be a bit inflamed. Grave’s disease can be the cause of the inflammation and often surgery is recommended for Grave’s disease, but inflammation makes surgery very difficult and increases the risk of complications. Knowing if a thyroid gland is inflamed or how inflamed it might be can help inform decision-making in thyroid disease.

Usually, thyroiditis is treated symptomatically and when the gland becomes underactive the thyroid function will need replacing with thyroid hormone (levothyroxine). It can take some time to get the dose correct and the dose may increase as the gland becomes more damaged by the inflammatory process.

If you have any more questions about thyroiditis or you feel that you may have this condition, book a consultation with endocrine and general surgeon Mr James Kirkby-Bott.

By Mr James Kirkby-Bott

Mr James Kirkby-Bott is a consultant general surgeon based in Southampton. He specialises in endocrine surgery and is an expert in the management of endocrine diseases, hernias and gallbladder problems. He also set up one of the UK's leading acute surgery and trauma units in Southampton.

Mr James Kirkby-Bott can be seen privately at Nuffield Wessex Hospital and Spire Southampton University Hospital on various days.

Mr Kirkby-Bott qualified at St George's Medical School and went on to train as an endocrine surgeon at the Hammersmith Hospital in London and was the International Endocrine Fellow in Lille, France where he spent 12 months carrying out research and operating alongside leading specialists. When awarded his Fellowship of the European Board of Surgery in Endocrine surgery he was one of just four surgeons in the UK to be awarded this. Mr Kirkby-Bott founded the Wessex Endocrine Society, a charity providing patient centred training and education in surgical endocrinology across Wessex.

Mr Kirkby-Bott is a Q member and specialist in Quality Improvement (QI) having been involved in numerous QI projects and regional lead for the Emergency Laparotomy Collaborative (2015-2017) and The Wessex Emergency Surgery Network (2017-present). He is currently Consulting for the Academic Health Science Networks emergency laparotomy project. In 2018 he was appointed to a senior role in University Hospital Southampton as co-director for clinical outcomes.

Other awards to his name include the Norman Tanner Prize medal, given by the Royal Society of Medicine in 2008 and Braun Aesclepius prize in endocrine surgery awarded in 2011. Mr Kirkby-Bott is equally committed to his research and has several scientific papers on the role of vitamin D in parathyroid surgery, as well as several book chapters and the first textbook dedicated to Parathyroid disease, to his name.

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