As a human, we should be amazed at how our body is built. All the complex systems that are ongoing in the body are a marvel. When the body system or organs are compromised or damaged, a person will easily fall sick or their health will be compromised. In this DoctorOnCall article, we will be explaining more on thyroiditis, a disease affecting the thyroid and how to fix it.
Thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that controls the metabolism process, growth and development of the body by releasing and controlling the thyroid hormones regulating the body function. It is located in front of the neck and lies on the windpipe (trachea). Thyroiditis is defined as inflammation of the thyroid gland. Thyroiditis can be caused by infection (bacteria, virus), traumatic and radiation-induced, autoimmune disease (Hashimoto thyroiditis, Graves disease), postpartum (women recently gave birth) and drug-induced (e.g., amiodarone, lithium). Thyroiditis can cause high or low levels of thyroid hormones in the blood. Hashimoto thyroiditis is the most common cause for hypothyroidism while Graves disease being the most common cause for hyperthyroidism.
Since thyroiditis can be caused by numerous causes, there are no symptoms unique to thyroiditis. This means, the best way to suspect a person is having thyroiditis is by getting concise medical history of the patient itself, laboratory test such blood test and Radioactive iodine uptake test (RAIU), sometimes thyroid scan and ultrasound to help identify the causes of the thyroiditis. Generally, all patients with thyroiditis will show symptoms of fatigue and swelling of the base of the neck. Other symptoms associated with thyroiditis can vary depending on the thyroid function itself. When the thyroid gland is damaged slowly or less active, low thyroid hormones are produced. This will exacerbate the hypothyroidism symptoms such as weight gain, constipation, dry skin, muscle aches, inability to withstand cold and depression. On the contrary, when the thyroiditis rapidly damages the thyroid, it could lead to a gush of thyroid hormone into the blood. This will exacerbate the hypothyroidism symptoms such as weight loss, heart palpitation, muscle weakness, insomnia, anxiety and irritability.
Hence, how to actually fix thyroiditis? Fixing thyroiditis is not simple and straightforward as different types and causes of thyroiditis require different courses of treatment. Treatment also depends on how severe the thyroiditis is. If a thyroiditis is suspected because of infection, antibiotics can help to control the infection. If the thyroiditis is induced by radiation, NSAIDs should be enough to help with the thyroid inflammation, although in severe cases prednisone is needed. A person with Hashimoto thyroiditis will need thyroid hormone replacement such as levothyroxine for life. Thyroiditis caused by Grave disease is usually treated with methimazole or propylthiouracil. In some cases of Grave disease, radioactive iodine treatment and thyroid surgery may be considered. For postpartum thyroiditis, thyroid functions typically return to normal within 12 months of the birth and medication given is dependent on the level of the thyroid hormones.
Unfortunately, there is no exact way to prevent oneself from acquiring thyroiditis. Furthermore, as explained, thyroiditis can be caused by many causes and presented with almost similar symptoms. Good news is, most thyroiditis can be fully healed unless it is a long-standing hypothyroidism that can lead to myxoedema coma. Myxoedema coma is a medical emergency characterised by severe hypothyroidism and symptoms of hypothermia, low sodium level in blood (hyponatremia) and slow heart rate. It is mostly seen in elderly and can lead to death. If a person is suspected of thyroiditis, it is necessary for the patient to have a thorough discussion with healthcare professionals to have better understanding and treatment of the disease.