Thyroiditis 101: Causes, Types, Symptoms, and Treatments

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Thyroiditis is a broad term covering several inflammatory conditions that affect your thyroid gland. In this slideshow, you will learn more about the different types of thyroiditis, the causes, symptoms, and treatments.


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What is thyroiditis?

The suffix “-itis” in medical terminology refers to inflammation — think arthritis or cystitis, for example. Thyroiditis, therefore, is a term that refers to several different conditions that all have one common feature — inflammation of your thyroid gland. Like other forms of thyroid disease, thyroiditis is far more common in women.


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What causes thyroiditis?

Thyroiditis is caused by an attack on your thyroid gland. That attack can come from autoimmune antibodies, viral, bacterial or fungal infections, or specific prescription drugs. In some cases, the thyroiditis causes temporary symptoms of hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism that resolve over time, but in other cases, can permanently damage the thyroid gland.


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What are the different types of thyroiditis?

There are several common forms of thyroiditis, including:

  • Hashimoto's thyroiditis
  • Postpartum thyroiditis
  • Painless thyroiditis
  • Subacute thyroiditis / de Quervain’s thyroiditis
  • Acute infectious thyroiditis
  • Riedel’s thyroiditis


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Hashimoto's thyroiditis and its symptoms

Hashimoto’s thyroiditis — the most common thyroiditis — is an autoimmune disease caused by an attack on your thyroid gland. With Hashimoto’s, your immune system produces antibodies that can trigger the formation of thyroid nodules, and over time, slow — or eventually destroy — your thyroid, causing hypothyroidism.

Symptoms of Hashimoto's are often the same as the resulting hypothyroidism and include fatigue, weight gain, brain fog, mood changes, dry skin, and hair loss, among others.


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Hashimoto’s treatment

Conventional medicine does not treat Hashimoto’s thyroiditis unless it makes you measurably hypothyroid, in which case you are prescribed thyroid hormone replacement medication.

Integrative medicine takes a holistic approach and treats Hashimoto’s — not just the hypothyroidism — by addressing the underlying allergies, infections, gut health, and immune dysfunction that are known triggers for the disease.


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Postpartum thyroiditis and its symptoms

Postpartum thyroiditis is a form of painless thyroiditis that develops in the year after the birth of a baby, a miscarriage, or termination of a pregnancy. It is usually caused by an autoimmune attack on the thyroid. While it frequently resolves, it is often a marker for future development of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.

Symptoms track with the stage of thyroiditis, which often goes between phases of hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism over several months to a year.


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Postpartum thyroiditis treatment

Most postpartum thyroiditis is not treated unless symptoms are severe. If you experience an elevated heart rate or anxiety during the hyperthyroid stage, beta blocker drugs are sometimes prescribed. For significant hypothyroidism symptoms, your doctor may prescribe thyroid hormone replacement drugs.


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Painless thyroiditis

Painless thyroiditis is also known as silent thyroiditis and subacute lymphocytic thyroiditis. It’s thought to be autoimmune, or a side effect of medications like amiodarone and lithium.

Hyperthyroid symptoms are common, and less commonly, periods of hypothyroid symptoms. Your thyroid usually does enlarge.

In almost all cases, painless thyroiditis resolves over time, and the thyroid normalizes. Unless symptoms become severe, the condition is rarely treated with prescription medications.


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Subacute granulomatous thyroiditis / de Quervain’s thyroiditis

Subacute granulomatous thyroiditis is also known as de Quervain’s thyroiditis or painful thyroiditis. Experts are not entirely clear on the cause but theorize that a viral or bacterial infection triggers this form of thyroiditis.

Symptoms include pain in your neck, tenderness, swallowing problems, and in some cases, a low-grade fever. You may also have a hoarse voice or enlarged lymph nodes in your neck. You may also go from hyperthyroid to hypothyroid symptoms over the course of this thyroiditis.


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Subacute granulomatous thyroiditis treatment

Since the thyroid usually goes back to normal over time, treatment mainly focuses on managing pain and inflammation with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) like ibuprofen. Bacterial infections are treated with antibiotics.


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Acute infectious thyroiditis

Acute infectious thyroiditis is a painful thyroiditis caused by a bacterial or fungal infection. A pus-filled thyroid abscess is common.

Symptoms include neck pain, pain with swallowing, tenderness, fever, chills, flu-like symptoms. You may have a tender neck mass you can feel externally. Thyroid function is usually not affected.

Treatment involves drainage of the abscess and antibiotics or antifungal drugs to treat the infection. In rare cases, surgery may be necessary to remove the abscess


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Riedel's thyroiditis

Riedel's thyroiditis is also known as invasive thyroiditis, or Riedel’s struma. Riedel’s thyroiditis involves fibrosis, where excessive amounts of connective tissue replace your normal thyroid tissue. The condition requires a biopsy for diagnosis.

Riedel's thyroiditis is still being studied, but experts theorize that the condition is caused by an autoimmune reaction.


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Riedel's thyroiditis symptoms and treatment

Riedel’s symptoms include tightness in your neck, difficulty swallowing, a hoarse voice, and in some cases, neck enlargement (goiter). Your thyroid function is usually not affected.

Treatment can include steroid treatment to reduce inflammation. The drug tamoxifen is also used with some patients to help slow or stop the condition. Surgery is less commonly performed if swallowing or breathing is impaired.