Subacute Thyroiditis: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatments
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Subacute Thyroiditis

What Is Subacute Thyroiditis?

Highlights

  1. Subacute thyroiditis is a form of thyroiditis that causes pain in the thyroid gland.
  2. Common symptoms of subacute thyroiditis include fatigue, weakness, and fever.
  3. Subacute thyroiditis is treated with medication and often goes away within 12 to 18 months.

Thyroiditis refers to the inflammation of the thyroid. Your thyroid is a gland in the front of your neck that releases a variety of hormones. These hormones help regulate metabolism, the process that converts food into energy. They also play a crucial role in your physical and emotional responses, such as fear, excitement, and pleasure.

Thyroiditis includes a group of disorders that cause the thyroid to become inflamed. Most types of thyroiditis typically lead to either hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism. Hyperthyroidism is a disorder in which the thyroid is overactive and produces too many hormones. Hypothyroidism is a disease in which the thyroid is underactive and doesn’t make enough hormones. Both of these conditions cause weight changes, anxiety, and fatigue.

Subacute thyroiditis is a rare type of thyroiditis that causes pain and discomfort in the thyroid. Individuals with this condition will also have symptoms of hyperthyroidism and later develop symptoms of hypothyroidism.

Subacute thyroiditis is slightly more common in women aged 40 to 50 than it is in men of the same age. It generally occurs after an upper respiratory infection, such as the flu or the mumps.

What Are the Symptoms of Subacute Thyroiditis?

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Unlike other forms of thyroiditis, subacute thyroiditis causes pain in the thyroid gland. In some cases, this pain might also spread to other parts of your neck, your ears, or your jaw. Your thyroid may be swollen and tender to the touch.

Other symptoms of subacute thyroiditis include:

  • a fever
  • fatigue
  • weakness
  • hoarseness
  • difficulty swallowing

Most people typically develop hyperthyroidism in the initial stages of subacute thyroiditis. The symptoms during this stage of the disease may include:

  • irritability
  • anxiety
  • restlessness
  • trouble concentrating
  • diarrhea
  • sudden weight loss
  • a fast or irregular heartbeat
  • an increased body temperature that often leads to excessive sweating

As the disease progresses, hypothyroidism generally replaces hyperthyroidism. You’ll likely develop a new set of symptoms, including:

  • fatigue
  • constipation
  • sudden weight gain
  • heavy menstrual periods

The first stage of subacute thyroiditis usually lasts for less than three months. The second stage may last for an additional nine to 15 months.

How Is Subacute Thyroiditis Diagnosed?

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Your doctor will feel and examine your neck to see if the thyroid gland is enlarged or inflamed. They’ll also ask you about your symptoms and your recent medical history. Your doctor will be more likely to check for subacute thyroiditis if you’ve recently had a viral infection in the upper respiratory tract.

Your doctor will order a blood test to confirm a subacute thyroiditis diagnosis. This test will check the levels of certain hormones in your blood. Specifically, the blood test will measure your thyroid hormone, or free T4, and thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) levels. The free T4 and TSH levels are part of what’s called an “internal feedback loop.” When one level is high, the other level is low, and vice versa.

The results of the blood test will vary depending on the stage of the disease. In the initial stages, your free T4 levels will be high while your TSH levels will be low. In the later stages, your TSH levels will be high while your T4 levels will be low. An abnormal level of either hormone indicates subacute thyroiditis.

How Is Subacute Thyroiditis Treated?

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Your doctor will give you medications to help reduce the pain and control inflammation. In some cases, this is the only treatment required for subacute thyroiditis. Possible medications include steroids, aspirin, and ibuprofen. Your doctor may also prescribe beta-blockers if hyperthyroidism is present in the early stages. These medications lower blood pressure and relieve certain symptoms, including anxiety and an irregular heartbeat.

Treatment for hyperthyroidism is important at the beginning of the disease. However, it will not be helpful once your condition progresses into the second phase. During the later stages of the disease, you’ll develop hypothyroidism. You’ll probably need to take hormones to replace the ones that your body isn’t producing.

Treatment for subacute thyroiditis is usually temporary. Your doctor will eventually wean you off any medications that have been prescribed to treat the condition.

What Is the Outlook for People with Subacute Thyroiditis?

Icon Outlook

The symptoms of subacute thyroiditis usually go away within 12 to 18 months. In some cases, however, hypothyroidism may end up being permanent. The American Thyroid Association estimates that approximately 5 percent of people with subacute thyroiditis develop permanent hypothyroidism.

Call your doctor if you suspect you have subacute thyroiditis. Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent complications from occurring.

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