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What is Subacute Thyroiditis?

By H. Lo
Updated Feb 29, 2024
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Subacute thyroiditis is a medical condition also known as subacute granulomatous thyroiditis or De Quervain’s thyroiditis. It is a rare illness in which the affected individual has an inflamed thyroid gland. Most times, this inflammation happens after a viral infection occurs in the upper respiratory tract. Since this is the circumstance surrounding the onset of subacute thyroiditis, it gives the impression that the condition is caused by a viral infection.

Generally, there are three main stages associated with subacute thyroiditis: hyperthyroid, hypothyroid and euthyroid. Hyperthyroid is when the thyroid produces and discharges an excessive amount of thyroid hormone into the blood stream. With hypothyroid, there is a lack of thyroid hormone in the body as a consequence of the previous stage. After the illness has run its course euthyroid sets in, which means the thyroid returns to normal. In some instances though, the thyroid does not survive the illness; when this happens to someone, he will have to take thyroid hormone medication for the remainder of his life.

During the time in which an individual suffers from subacute thyroiditis, he will experience many symptoms. Swelling, pain and tenderness are basic characteristics of the illness. The thyroid gland swells and causes the affected individual pain, which can then spread from the throat to the ears and jaw. Also, the throat might be tender to the touch. Other symptoms include fatigue, fever and difficulty swallowing.

Some of the symptoms of subacute thyroiditis occur at different times in the course of the illness. For example, with hyperthyroidism, symptoms include diarrhea, palpitations and weight loss. When the illness progresses to hypothyroidism, symptoms such as constipation, fatigue and weight gain are normal.

Diagnosis involves tests that indicate low or high levels of certain hormones or bodily substances. For example, an individual might have subacute thyroiditis if the presence of radioactive iodine uptake in his body is low or if the level of serum thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) is high. In some instances, symptoms can be misleading and cause misdiagnosis. For example, if the inflammation is present in only one side of the gland, it can be misdiagnosed as thyroid cancer.

There is no cure for subacute thyroiditis, as the condition usually goes away by itself within weeks or months. Though the illness appears to be related to viral infection, treatment does not involve the use of antibiotics because they do not have an effect. To relieve inflammation and pain, an individual might use aspirin or ibuprofen. Someone with a more severe case of subacute thyroiditis might use steroids.

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