Thyroiditis

Specialty of Surgery

What is thyroiditis?

The term thyroiditis refers to an infection of the thyroid gland, and is a general term – there are several types of thyroiditis causing inflammation in various ways, and treatment varies depending on the kind which the patient has. The thyroid gland produces hormones which help to control the body’s metabolism and growth. Types of thyroiditis include Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, De Quervain’s thyroiditis, postpartum thyroiditis, drug-induced thyroiditis, radiation-induced thyroiditis, infectious thyroiditis, and silent (or painless) thyroiditis. 

What are the symptoms of thyroiditis?

Symptoms vary depending on the type of thyroiditis contracted. De Quervain’s thyroiditis, for example, can cause fever, and pain to occur in the jaw, neck, and ear. The thyroid gland may, in addition, release too much thyroid hormone, causing symptoms of hyperthyroidism, e.g anxiety, heart palpitations, and inability to sleep (insomnia).

Symptoms of an overactive thyroid gland are also experienced in postpartum thyroiditis, which affects a very small amount of women shortly after giving birth. These symptoms may be seen in silent thyroiditis, drug-induced thyroiditis, radiation-induced thyroiditis, and acute thyroiditis. Equally, these types of thyroiditis may display symptoms of an underactive thyroid gland.

An overactive thyroid gland produces symptoms including:

  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Feeling weak, or muscle weakness
  • Lack of sexual interest
  • Nervousness
  • Irritability
  • Hyperactivity
  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhoea
  • An increased need to urinate

An underactive thyroid gland produces symptoms including:

  • Weight gain
  • Being constipated
  • Muscle cramps
  • Dry skin
  • Hair and nails breaking easily or feeling brittle
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Irregular periods
  • Heavy periods
  • Depression
  • Feeling sensitive to the cold

What causes thyroiditis?

As thyroiditis comes in many forms, it can be caused in different ways. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is caused by the immune system attacking the thyroid gland. De Quervain’s thyroiditis is caused by a viral infection such as the flu. Thyroiditis can also occur in women who have recently given birth, although this is more common in women with type 1 diabetes. Certain medications and radiation (e.g from radiotherapy) can also affect the thyroid gland, causing thyroiditis. Lastly, infectious thyroiditis (also called acute thyroiditis can be caused by an infection.

How can thyroiditis be prevented?

Most types of thyroiditis cannot be prevented, but lifestyle measures and looking after your body can help in the event of an infection. Get regular exercise, drink in moderation, and if you smoke, it is advisable that you give up.

What is the treatment for thyroiditis?

Treatment for thyroiditis depends on the kind which the patient has. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is an autoimmune condition and it can take months or years to even detect. In Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, treatment focuses on relieving symptoms, as it is incurable.

Other types of thyroiditis can be treated with medication, which attempts to restore normal thyroid function. Pain can be relieved with over-the-counter painkillers such as ibuprofen.

In some cases, thyroiditis causes low thyroid hormone levels, meaning hormone replacement therapy may become necessary. This treatment is often lifelong. If the thyroiditis is infectious, it may be treated with antibiotics, and in children, surgery is usually necessary to remove the abnormal part of the thyroid. 

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