What is Thyroiditis?
Inflammation of the thyroid gland is known as thyroiditis. The inflammation of the thyroid gland can be due to any injury or attack to the thyroid gland. The cause could be various disorders resulting in this inflammation. The thyroid gland is located in the front of the neck just below the Adam's apple. The function of the thyroid gland is production of hormones, which control the body's' metabolism such as heart rate and the rate of burning of the calories.
Treatment depends on the type of thyroiditis and the symptoms experienced by the patient.
Different Types of Thyroiditis
- Hashimoto's Thyroiditis: This type of thyroiditis is caused by antibodies, which attack the thyroid gland. Patient experiences symptoms of hypothyroidism and this can lead to permanent hypothyroidism. This type of thyroiditis can be treated.
- De Quervain's Thyroiditis (Subacute Thyroiditis): This type of thyroiditis can be caused by a viral infection. Patient experiences symptoms of hyperthyroidism with pain in the thyroid, which is then followed by symptoms of hypothyroidism. There is improvement of symptoms in a few months. However, there is some chance of permanent hypothyroidism, which is treatable.
- Silent Thyroiditis: In this type of thyroiditis, patient experiences symptoms of hyperthyroidism, which are then followed by symptoms of hypothyroidism. There is an improvement in the symptoms within a year to year-and-a-half. Silent thyroiditis may also result in permanent hypothyroidism.
- Postpartum Thyroiditis: This type of thyroiditis occurs as a result of antibodies attacking the thyroid gland about 4 to 6 months after the mother has given birth to her baby. There are symptoms of hyperthyroidism, which are then followed by symptoms of hypothyroidism. There is improvement in the symptoms in a year to year-and-a-half. Postpartum thyroiditis can also result in permanent hypothyroidism.
- Radiation-Induced Thyroiditis: This type of thyroiditis occurs after treatment with radioactive iodine done for hyperthyroidism or after radiation therapy for treatment of some cancers. Patient often experiences symptoms of hypothyroidism, which is usually permanent, but treatable.
- Drug-Induced Thyroiditis: The cause of this type of thyroiditis is prescription drugs, such as lithium, amiodarone, cytokines and interferons. Patient experiences symptoms of hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism, which persists as long as the medicine responsible for the symptoms is taken.
- Suppurative Thyroiditis (Acute Thyroiditis): The cause of this type of thyroiditis is caused by bacteria and other such infectious organisms. Symptoms comprise of pain in the thyroid, generalized illness and sometimes symptoms of mild hypothyroidism. Symptoms are relieved after treating the infectious cause.
Causes of Thyroiditis
Any type of attack or injury to the thyroid gland causes its inflammation and results in thyroiditis. The inflammation is the body's response to any injury, which causes damage to the thyroid cells. Cause of thyroiditis depends on the type of thyroiditis. The most common cause of the attack on the thyroid gland is an autoimmune disease where the immune system of the body produces antibodies which attack the body's own organ and tissues. Other causes of Thyroiditis comprise of infection, certain medicines and radiation therapy.
Signs & Symptoms of Thyroiditis
As thyroiditis is a condition, which comprises of a group of disorders and not just a single disorder, the symptoms differ. Thyroiditis causes long-term and slow destruction/ damage to the thyroid cells which causes decrease in the levels of the thyroid hormone in the blood. In such cases, the Thyroiditis patient experiences symptoms of underactive thyroid or hypothyroidism. Some of the common symptoms of such type of thyroiditis are:
- Unexpected weight gain.
- Fatigue or tiredness.
- Skin dryness.
- Muscle aches.
- Patient can also have pain in the thyroid gland.
Thyroiditis which causes rapid destruction or damage to the thyroid cells causes leakage of the thyroid hormone and results in increased levels of the thyroid hormone in the blood. In such cases, patient experiences symptoms of overactive thyroid or hyperthyroidism which include:
- Weight loss.
- Difficulty in sleeping.
- Nervousness, irritability or anxiety.
- Rapid heart rate.
- Muscle weakness.
- Yet another symptoms of thyroiditis includes tremors where there is shaking of the fingers or hands.
- Thyroiditis patient can also have symptoms of pain in the thyroid gland.
Diagnosis of Thyroiditis
- Laboratory tests are done to confirm the diagnosis of thyroiditis and the type of thyroiditis the patient has. Blood tests are done to measure the amount of thyroid hormone present in the blood, which will indicate if the thyroid is producing excessive hormone or very little hormone. Blood tests also help in finding out the amount of thyroid-stimulating hormone or TSH produced by the pituitary gland and the antibodies which are present in the body.
- Radioactive iodine uptake test can also be done to assess the ability of the thyroid gland to take up iodine, which is a mineral required to produce the thyroid hormone.
- Biopsy can also be done to determine the cause of attack on the thyroid.
Treatment of Thyroiditis
Treatment of thyroiditis depends on the type of thyroiditis the patient has and the type of symptoms, which are present.
- If the Thyroiditis patient has symptoms of hypothyroidism, then thyroid hormone replacements are prescribed in order to restore the hormone levels of the body and to revert back the body's metabolism to normal. There may be several dose adjustments made of the synthetic thyroid hormone before arriving at the right dose. There are some types of thyroiditis, where there is gradual improvement in the symptoms of hypothyroidism and the dosage of the synthetic thyroid hormone is slowly tapered off by the doctor.
- If the Thyroiditis patient has symptoms of hyperthyroidism, then medicines such as beta blockers, which help in lowering the heart rate and decreasing symptoms, such as tremors, are prescribed. The symptoms of hyperthyroidism are often temporary, for this reason the dose of the medicine will be tapered off as the symptoms improve.
- Medicines, such as NSAIDs or analgesics (ibuprofen, naproxen) are prescribed for Thyroiditis if the patient has pain in the thyroid gland. Steroids may be needed if the patient has severe pain in the thyroid gland.