Thyroid inflammation (thyroiditis): symptoms & treatment

Thyroid inflammation is quite common. What is thyroiditis, what are the thyroiditis symptoms and how is thyroiditis treated? Thyroiditis (thyroiditis) is the medical term for an inflammation of the thyroid gland. There are different types of thyroiditis and treatment varies per type. The following three types of thyroiditis are distinguished: Hashimoto’s thyroiditis; Subacute granulomatous thyroiditis; Silent thyroiditis, also called postpartum thyroiditis. The most common type of thyroiditis is Hashimoto’s disease.

  • The thyroid gland
  • Thyroid hormones
  • Pituitary
  • Thyroid inflammation (thyroiditis)
  • Thyroiditis symptoms
  • Decrease in thyroid hormone
  • First rise, then fall
  • Hashimoto thyroiditis
  • Autoimmune condition
  • Chronic thyroiditis
  • Subacute granulomatous thyroiditis
  • After infection with a virus
  • Complaints
  • Duration and recovery
  • Silent thyroiditis symptoms and treatment

Where is your thyroid located? / Source: Arnavaz, Wikimedia Commons (Public domain)

The thyroid gland

Thyroid hormones

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in the lower, front part of the neck, below the larynx, against the trachea. The main job of the thyroid gland is to produce thyroid hormones. Hormones are chemicals secreted by glands that act as messengers to tell certain body parts what to do. The thyroid hormones regulate metabolism, also called metabolism – which is the set of chemical processes in an organism.

Pituitary

The functioning of the thyroid gland is regulated by the pituitary gland, a small organ at the base of the brain. The pituitary gland produces a hormone that stimulates the thyroid gland to produce thyroid hormone. The pituitary gland is again under the control of the hypothalamus, a part of the brain.

Pituitary gland / Source: Tefi/Shutterstock.com

Thyroid inflammation (thyroiditis)

Thyroiditis is the medical term for inflammation (not infection) of the thyroid gland. There are different types of thyroiditis and treatment varies per type.

The following three types of thyroiditis are distinguished:

  • Hashimoto’s thyroiditis;
  • Subacute granulomatous thyroiditis; and
  • Silent thyroiditis.

Thyroiditis symptoms

Decrease in thyroid hormone

If thyroiditis causes the thyroid gland to gradually become damaged, this leads to a drop in thyroid hormone in the blood, and you experience symptoms of hypothyroidism. Typical symptoms include fatigue, weight gain, constipation, dry skin, depression and reduced exercise tolerance. This is the case in patients with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.

First rise, then fall

If thyroiditis leads to rapid damage and destruction of thyroid cells, the thyroid hormone stored in the gland will leak, leading to an increase in thyroid hormone in the blood. In that case, you experience the symptoms of thyrotoxicosis (an excessive amount of thyroid hormone in the body), which is similar to hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid). Symptoms often include anxiety, insomnia, palpitations (fast heart rate), fatigue, weight loss, and irritability. The symptoms of thyrotoxicosis and hyperthyroidism are both caused by elevated levels of thyroid hormone in the blood, but in thyrotoxicosis the gland is not actually overactive. In thyrotoxicosis, the thyroid gland will at some point become exhausted and contain less and less thyroid hormone. Pain in the thyroid gland (thyroid pain) is also sometimes present.

Thyroid ultrasound / Source: Dreams Come True/Shutterstock.com

Hashimoto thyroiditis

Autoimmune condition

Hashimoto thyroiditis is an autoimmune disease in which the body produces antibodies that damage the thyroid gland. It is the most common type of thyroiditis. It is named after the Japanese physician, Hakaru Hashimoto, who first described this disease in 1912. Hashimoto’s disease is approximately eight times more common in women than in men and is often genetic. The disease mainly manifests itself in women between the ages of 30 and 50.

Chronic thyroiditis

Hashimoto’s disease is a chronic inflammation of the thyroid gland, in which the thyroid gland works too slowly and therefore produces too few thyroid hormones. An underactive thyroid gland is called hypothyroidism and the result is that a number of processes in the body run slower. The treatment consists of the administration of a synthetic thyroid hormone.

Examination of the thyroid gland / Source: Istock.com/KatarzynaBialasiewicz

Subacute granulomatous thyroiditis

After infection with a virus

Subacute granulomatous thyroiditis or De Quervain’s thyroiditis is rare. This condition was first described in 1904. It often occurs after infection with a virus, which is why it is also called viral thyroiditis.

Complaints

It is often confused with strep throat, as patients often complain of a sore throat, when in fact it is pain in the neck over the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland generally swells quickly and is very painful and sensitive. The ears and jaws may also hurt, a (mild) fever or weight loss may occur. The inflammation causes the thyroid gland to initially work too quickly (hyperthyroidism), followed by a transient period in which the thyroid gland works too slowly (hypothyroidism). The patient then feels very tired, apathetic and listless.

Paracetamol has an analgesic and fever-reducing effect / Source: Martin Sulman

Duration and recovery

Most patients recover completely from this condition. Normally the condition resolves naturally within a few months, but sometimes there is a recurrence, meaning the inflammation returns. In sporadic cases, the thyroid gland is damaged to such an extent that permanent hypothyroidism develops. There is no causative therapy for this type of thyroiditis. If the pain is very severe, paracetamol can be given. In very serious cases, the doctor can prescribe corticosteroids such as prednisone.

Silent thyroiditis symptoms and treatment

Silent thyroiditis is also called postpartum thyroiditis. Postpartum means ‘after childbirth’. It appears that approximately one in eight women develop silent thyroiditis within a few months to approximately one year after giving birth, as a result of certain changes that occur in the immune system during pregnancy. Symptoms are rare – hence the name ‘ silent thyroiditis’. If symptoms do occur, the main symptoms are an enlarged thyroid gland with first an increase (= hyperthyroidism) and then a decrease (= hypothyroidism) in the production of thyroid hormones. This type of thyroiditis usually goes away on its own after a few months, but it can recur after a subsequent pregnancy.

read more

  • Overactive thyroid: symptoms of hyperthyroidism
  • Underactive thyroid: symptoms, cause & treatment
  • Iodine: in nutrition, iodine deficiency symptoms, thyroid
  • Goitre: swollen or enlarged thyroid gland complaints
  • Thyroid disorder: what thyroid complaints are there?