Thyroiditis is an inflammation of the thyroid gland. There are several types of thyroiditis and their treatments are different.
Also called autoimmune or chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis,which is the most common type of thyroiditis. This is named after the Japanese physician, Hakaru Hashimoto, who first described this health condition in 1912. The thyroid gland is gets enlarged in Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, although only one side may be enlarged enough to feel. During the course of this disease, the thyroid cells becomes inefficient in converting iodine into thyroid hormone and compensate by enlarging. The radioactive iodine uptake may be paradoxically high while the patient is hypothyroid because the gland retains the ability to take-up or “trap” iodine even after it has lost its ability to produce thyroid hormone.
As the disease progresses, the TSH increases since the pituitary is trying to induce the thyroid to make more hormone, the T4 falls since the thyroid can’t make it, and the patient becomes hypothyroid. This sequence of events can occur over a relatively short span of a few weeks or may take several years.
- Treatment should begin with thyroid hormone replacement. This prevents or corrects the hypothyroidism, and it also generally keeps the gland from getting larger.
- In most cases, the thyroid gland will decrease in size once thyroid hormone replacement is started.
- Thyroid antibodies are present in 95% of patients with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and serve as a useful “marker” in identifying the disease without thyroid biopsy or surgery.
- Thyroid antibodies may remain for years after the disease has been adequately treated and the patient is on thyroid hormone replacement.
Thyroid Conditions Related to Thyroiditis
De Quervain’s Thyroiditis
De Quervain’s thyroiditis (also called subacute or granulomatous thyroiditis) was first described in 1904 and is much less common than Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. The thyroid gland generally swells rapidly and is very painful and tender. The gland discharges thyroid hormone into the blood and the patients become hyperthyroid; however, the gland quits taking up iodine (radioactive iodine uptake is very low), and the hyperthyroidism generally resolves over the next several weeks.
- Patients frequently become ill with fever and prefer to be in bed.
- Thyroid antibodies are not present in the blood, but the sedimentation rate (which measures inflammation) is very high.
- Although this type of thyroiditis resembles an infection within the thyroid gland, no infectious agent has ever been identified, and antibiotics are of no use.
- Treatment is usually bed rest and aspirin to reduce inflammation.
- Occasionally cortisone (steroids, which reduce inflammation) and thyroid hormone (to “rest” the thyroid gland) may be used in prolonged cases.
- Nearly all patients recover, and the thyroid gland returns to normal after several weeks or months.
- A few patients will become hypothyroid once the inflammation settles down and therefore will need to stay on thyroid hormone replacement indefinitely.
- Recurrences are uncommon.
Silent thyroiditis is the third and least common type of thyroiditis. It was not recognized until the 1970s, although it probably existed and was treated as Graves’ disease before that.
This type of thyroiditis resembles in part Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and in part De Quervain’s thyroiditis. The blood thyroid test is high and the radioactive iodine uptake is low (like De Quervain’s thyroiditis), but there is no pain and needle biopsy resembles Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. The majority of patients have been young women following pregnancy.
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