Thyroid inflammation or thyroiditis is an inflammatory response in the thyroid gland, usually leading to disruptions in the levels of thyroid hormones in the body. A number of forms of this inflammation exist, and treatment options vary, depending on why the patient has developed a thyroid problem. In some cases, permanent thyroid damage may occur, and this can put the patient at risk of future health complications. Patients with thyroid inflammation will need to see an endocrinologist, a physician who specializes in hormones, for evaluation and treatment.
Sometimes, the inflammation is the result of infection. Other patients may experience autoimmune responses where the body starts to attack the thyroid. Some examples of thyroid inflammation include the most common form, Hashimoto's disease, along with postpartum thyroiditis, De Quervain's thyroiditis, and silent thyroiditis. The symptoms vary, depending on what is happening inside the gland.
Usually, at the onset of thyroid inflammation, patients start producing too many thyroid hormones. As the condition progresses, the gland becomes less active and patients can develop hypothyroid, where they are not making enough hormones, before levels return to normal. Symptoms can include weight loss or gain, fatigue, sweating, low appetite, and dry skin. Often the symptoms are vague and may not immediately be attributable to a problem with the thyroid unless a patient knows about a family history of disease and mentions it to the doctor.
Patients with thyroid inflammation may notice swelling of the thyroid gland. The neck can feel thick and stiff, and may be tender and hot to the touch. A doctor can palpate the area to check neighboring lymph nodes as well, to determine if the inflammation is spreading to other parts of the body. A doctor may also request medical imaging to get a look at the thyroid tissue in a noninvasive way, and other testing options may be available as well, depending on what kind of inflammation a doctor thinks the patient may have.
Treatment for thyroid inflammation can include medications, along with replacement hormones in patients who are not making enough on their own. With conditions like Hashimoto's disease, where the changes to the gland are permanent, the patient may need to take medications for life. Some conditions have genetic connections. Family medical histories can help people identify and avoid some medical conditions, and it is a good idea to tell family members when a doctor diagnoses a genetic disease so they can discuss it with their doctors.