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Autoimmune Thyroid Disorder

Learn about the different types of autoimmune thyroid disorders and available treatment options.
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What is thyroiditis?

Thyroiditis is a general medical term that can refer to several different conditions that are responsible for thyroidal inflammation.

There are several different forms of thyroiditis, but the most common type is hashimoto's thyroiditis. other forms of thyroiditis include:

  • acute thyroiditis
  • postpartum thyroiditis
  • silent thyroiditis
  • and subacute thyroiditis.

Thyroiditis has two main forms, painful and painless.

Painful forms usually are associated with infections that lead to the swelling of the thyroid, such as acute thyroiditis, and usually cause pain in the jaw and throat.

Painless forms of thyroiditis, like hashimoto's thyroiditis, are usually related to the lowered functioning of the thyroid and are generally due to an autoimmune response.

The thyroid is responsible for creating the hormones that control metabolism, thyroxine (t4) and triiodothyronine (t3). the presence of too many of these hormones can lead to hyperthyroidism and too little can lead to hypothyroidism.

Thyroiditis is usually associated with secondary hypothyroidism, and one of the most common signs of thyroiditis is weight gain. however, there are several other indicators of this medical condition, and these indicators are similar to many other issues, so diagnosis is not always clear cut.

What are the symptoms of thyroid disorders and thyroiditis?

Because metabolism is affected, weight gain and loss are almost always symptoms of thyroiditis.

People often lose weight due to an increase in their metabolism if the thyroid is overactive, but many people with thyroiditis will gain weight due to a slowed metabolism and lowered production of t3 and t4. people with lowered thyroid hormone production also retain water, which contributes to weight gain.

Fluctuation of weight is not the only symptom of this condition.

People with this issue also suffer from fatigue and sometimes even depression. other symptoms included the inability to think clearly, dry skin and constipation.

Less common symptoms can include random aches and pains, along with swelling of the legs. other people suffering from this disease become sensitive to heat and cold, can develop reactive hypoglycemia and even suffer from hair loss. if the thyroiditis continues unchecked and becomes severe enough, it can lead to the heart rate and body temperature dropping and can even possibly lead to heart failure.

This is generally preceded by puffiness and swelling around the eyes.

On the other hand, if the thyroid is damaged, the hormone that the thyroid produces can begin to leak into the body, and create symptoms similar to that of hyperthyroidism. this is called thyrotoxicosis and symptoms include:

  • weight loss
  • anxiety
  • insomnia
  • and a fast heart rate.

The difference between hyperthyroidism and thyrotoxicosis is that the thyroid gland is not overactive in the case of hyperthyroidism, but the thyroid is so damaged that it is leaking unregulated amounts of thyroid hormone.

What types of thyroiditis are there, and how are they diagnosed?

As mentioned, diagnosing thyroiditis can be difficult because its symptoms are so similar to so many other medical conditions.

The symptoms also can develop slowly over time, causing people to blame aging or general feelings of malaise on their fatigue and weight gain, rather than a medical condition. if a person with thyroiditis does not have a family history of this condition, a battery of tests may be run before a doctor finds or considers thyroiditis as the culprit.

For most forms of thyroiditis, blood tests are run that look for levels of thyroxine (t4) and triiodothyronine (t3), and a thyroid-stimulating hormone (tsh).

Additionally, these tests will look for the presence of anti-thyroglobulin antibodies (anti-tg) and anti-thyroid peroxidase antibodies (anti-tpo), which usually indicate hashimoto's thyroiditis.

Outside of hashimoto's thyroiditis, diagnosis of thyroiditis is not exact.

Frequently, doctors will look for the levels of t3 and t4 in the blood to see if the body is producing enough of these hormones. additionally, if a high level of tsh is detected, this may mean that because the thyroid is not functioning properly and creating enough t3 and t4 the body is creating additional hormones in an attempt to stimulate the thyroid to perform.

Low levels of t3 and t4 will create symptoms associated with hypothyroidism, and levels that are too high will create symptoms associated with hyperthyroidism.

Doctors may also order x-rays and mris to determine if the thyroid is too small, too large, or may have an abscess, as in the case of acute thyroiditis.

Hashimoto's thyroiditis

The easiest form of thyroiditis to diagnose is hashimoto's thyroiditis, which is also known as chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis.

This is the most common type of thyroiditis and is usually hereditary.

Most of the time a blood test is used to confirm a diagnosis, since the presence of the antibodies anti-tg and anti-tpo can be used to confirm a diagnosis. hashimoto's thyroiditis is an autoimmune disease wherein the thyroid gland is attacked by the immune system, slowly damaging the organ over time, and causing it to not function properly.

Acute thyroiditis

This type of thyroiditis usually develops after someone has had a bacterial infection that leaves them with a weakened immune system.

Most of the time, these are either staph or strep infections.

Following the infection, an abscess develops in the thyroid gland. this type of thyroiditis is different from others because it does not usually affect the thyroids ability to function and create the thyroid hormone. instead, acute thyroiditis will often present with neck pain, fever and chills. many people will also feel a lump or mass in their neck, which is the thyroid abscess.

Postpartum thyroiditis

This kind of thyroiditis occurs in women who have just recently given birth, and it can lead to either hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism, and sometimes even both.

This condition affects approximately five percent of women within a year of having given birth, and of these women who experience thyroiditis, one in five will require treatment for the rest of their lives.

Of those who develop thyroiditis after giving birth, they usually initially suffer from hyperthyroidism.

From there, either the thyroid either returns to normal, or they will develop hypothyroid disorders. doctors believe this condition develops due to the changes in the immune system that are necessary during pregnancy.

Silent thyroiditis

Silent thyroiditis causes people to go back and forth between hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism, due to swelling of the thyroid.

The causes of this form of thyroiditis are unknown, but it occurs more frequently in women. over time, someone suffering from this disease will experience symptoms that will go back and forth between fatigue, irritability, nervousness, and weight fluctuation.

Most people experience hyperthyroidism symptoms first, and then develop hypothyroidism as the thyroid gland begins the process of recovery.

This condition usually lasts about a year, but it may eventually turn into life long hypothyroidism.

Subacute thyroiditis

One of the most uncommon forms of thyroiditis is subacute thyroiditis.

As with acute thyroiditis, it is thought to be caused by an infection, but this form is usually caused by a viral rather than bacterial infection. usually it develops after an upper respiratory tract infection, such as influenza or mumps, and it is found most frequently in middle-aged women.

The symptoms of subacute thyroiditis are pain in the throat and jaw, along with problems swallowing.

This is due to the enlargement of the thyroid gland. other indications of this condition are weakness, fever and fatigue. people experiencing this from of thyroiditis can experience either hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism symptoms as well, though most of the time the thyroid functions return to normal after the patient has undergone treatment.

How is thyroiditis treated?

As noted, there are several forms of thyroiditis, and there are a variety of factors that contribute to the development of the disease.

The cause of the condition plays a large role in thyroid treatment.

Generally, the most common form of treatment is to attempt to regulate the thyroid hormones in the body since the thyroid is no longer doing so. the most common prescriptions to regulate and replace the thyroid hormones in the body are levothyroxine (brand names: levothroid, levoxyl, synthroid, tirosint, unithroid) or desiccated thyroid extract (brand name: armour thyroid).

Many people who take these drugs will have to take them daily to regulate their t3 and t4 levels.

For people who experience swelling of the thyroid gland due to an infection, treatment is usually much simpler and does not require lifelong maintenance.

Once the infection, either bacterial or viral, has run its course, the thyroid return to normal function and the patient no longer needs treatment.

Next Article: Symptoms of Thyroid Problems


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