Thyroiditis: Symptoms and Treatment

Thyroiditis is a medical condition that is characterized by the inflammation of the thyroid gland. This HealthHearty write-up provides information on the symptoms and treatment of thyroiditis.
HealthHearty Staff
Last Updated: Feb 8, 2018
The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped endocrine gland that is located in the lower neck. It performs the function of secreting thyroid hormones called thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). These hormones that play a vital role in the regulation of blood pressure, body temperature, and heart rate. The pituitary gland produces thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), which stimulates the production of thyroid hormones by the thyroid gland. Damage to the thyroid gland can manifest in the form of hypothyroidism (inadequate production of thyroid hormones) and hyperthyroidism (excessive production of thyroid hormones). When the gland becomes inflamed, one is diagnosed with thyroiditis.
Contributing Factors

Thyroiditis is categorized into the following types:
Hashimoto's thyroiditis
Postpartum thyroiditis
Subacute thyroiditis
Silent thyroiditis
Drug-induced thyroiditis
Radiation-induced thyroiditis
Acute infectious thyroiditis
Hashimoto's thyroiditis occurs due to an abnormal immune response. It is an autoimmune disease wherein the immune system attacks the thyroid cells, mistaking them for foreign invaders. As the disease progresses, the levels of TSH increase, as the pituitary gland tries to induce the thyroid to make more hormone. However, the levels of T4 fall, as thyroid gland can't produce sufficient amounts of hormones. This gives rise to hypothyroidism.
Postpartum thyroiditis is also believed to be caused by an abnormal immune response. The risk factors include preexisting autoimmune disease, family history of thyroiditis, and development of postpartum thyroiditis after a previous pregnancy. Subacute thyroiditis is attributed to an upper respiratory infection (mostly a viral infection). Silent thyroiditis mostly affects women who have just had a baby. It is believed that drugs such as interferon and amiodarone could be responsible for causing inflammation. Acute infectious thyroiditis is mostly caused by a bacterial infection.
Risk Factors

Hashimoto's thyroiditis is the most common thyroid disorder in US. It mostly affects women. People above the age of 40 years are more commonly affected. A list of risk factors for thyroiditis is given below:
Family history or a personal history of thyroiditis and/or immune system disorder
Pregnancy
Infection (viral/bacterial)
Radiation therapy
Medications, like amiodarone or lithium
Symptoms of Thyroiditis

The following table presents information on the causes and symptoms of different types of thyroiditis.
Type of Thyroiditis Causes Symptoms Neck Pain
Hashimoto's thyroiditis Antibodies attack Symptoms of hypothyroidism No
Subacute thyroiditis (de Quervain's thyroiditis) Viral infection Painful thyroid Yes
Silent thyroiditis Antibodies attack Symptoms of hyperthyroidism, followed by symptoms of hypothyroidism. No
Postpartum thyroiditis Antibodies attack after delivery of child Symptoms of hyperthyroidism No
Drug-induced thyroiditis Drugs like: amiodarone, lithium, interferons and cytokines Symptoms of hyperthyroidism No
Radiation-induced thyroiditis External beam radiation therapy for certain cancers. Symptoms of hyperthyroidism No
Acute infectious thyroiditis Infection due to any organism, mostly bacteria Painful thyroid, fever, and occasional symptoms of hyperthyroidism Yes

It must now be clear that the symptoms differ according to the type of thyroiditis. These symptoms depend on the speed with which the thyroid gland is getting enlarged.
Symptoms of Hyperthyroidism

Rapid destruction of thyroid cells causes symptoms similar to hyperthyroidism, which include:
Sudden weight loss, even with a proper diet
Rapid or irregular heartbeat
Tremors
Changes in bowel patterns; frequent bowel movements
Brittle hair
Increased sensitivity to heat
Nervousness, anxiety, and irritability
Fatigue
Muscle weakness
Goiter
Difficulty sleeping
Dry skin
Menstrual irregularities
Symptoms of Hypothyroidism

If the thyroid gland is not producing sufficient amounts of hormones, it gives rise to hypothyroidism. The symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
Fatigue
Constipation
Dry skin
Thinning hair
Slowed heart rate
Depression
Increased sensitivity to cold
Unexplained weight gain
Puffy face
Muscle weakness
 igh blood cholesterol levels
Stiff muscles and joints
Impaired memory
Heavy and irregular menstrual periods
Diagnosis and Treatment

Physical examination of the thyroid gland helps in determining if thyroid gland is enlarged. Blood tests (TSH, T4, and T3) give an account of the amount of thyroid hormones present in the blood. Thyroid scans can also be used to examine the thyroid gland. Biopsy of the gland can also help in identifying the cause.
The treatment options can be ascertained only after identifying the type of the thyroiditis. For a patient affected by hyperthyroidism, the doctor may prescribe beta blockers to lower the increased heart rate. Such patients may also be given radioactive iodine, which shrinks the thyroid gland. Anti-thyroid medication also helps reduce the symptoms. In severe cases, surgical removal might be suggested. Hormone replacement therapy also helps restore the level of hormones, thereby regulating the metabolic activities. It prevents further inflammation of the thyroid gland. Analgesics might be recommended for patients affected by pain in the throat. In case of hypothyroidism, synthetic thyroid hormone (levothyroxine) is prescribed.
If left untreated, thyroid disorders can result in permanent damage of the thyroid gland. Therefore, medical assistance must be immediately sought on experiencing the aforementioned symptoms.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.