Kids Health Info

Thyroiditis

  • Thyroiditis is inflammation (swelling) of the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland produces a hormone called thyroxine (also called T4), which helps regulate many bodily functions. Thyroxine affects almost every cell in the body, including cells in muscles, the brain, the heart and the bowel. 

    Thyroiditis can result in too much thyroxine being produced, resulting in symptoms of an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism). Eventually, the inflammation reduces the thyroid's ability to make thyroxine, and too little thyroxine is produced (an underactive thyroid or hypothyroidism).

    Thyroiditis usually affects young or middle-aged people, and is more common in females than males. If properly monitored and treated, thyroiditis is not a serious disease.

    Signs and symptoms of thyroiditis

    If your child has thyroiditis, they may have:

    • a sore throat
    • fever 
    • pain and swelling of the thyroid gland at the front of the throat, which is called a goitre (goy-tuh).

    If their thyroiditis has resulted in low thyroxine levels, they may develop symptoms of hypothyroidism, including:

    • an intolerance to the cold
    • feeling tired and lethargic
    • constipation
    • low mood (e.g. sadness)
    • weight gain.

    When to see a doctor

    If your child develops a neck swelling (goitre) or shows any signs of hypothyroidism, have them seen by your GP.

    Your child will need to have a blood test to check their thyroxine levels, as well as other thyroid hormone levels. Thyroiditis is diagnosed if high levels of antibodies are found in the blood.

    Treatment for thyroiditis

    Depending on the level of thyroid hormone in the blood, treatment is recommended for some patients with thyroiditis, and options include thyroxine replacement and surgery. Your doctor will discuss treatment options for your child.

    Thyroxine replacement

    Thyroxine can be given as a thyroid hormone replacement, in tablet form. It may be given to your child as soon as they are diagnosed with thyroiditis.

    Thyroxine is given for three reasons:

    • It shrinks the goitre, usually over a period of six to 18 months in most patients.
    • It makes sure the patient always has adequate levels of thyroxine in the blood to regulate body functions.
    • It seems to have an effect on the white blood cells, which cause the damage and destruction in the thyroid gland.

    Surgery

    Sometimes surgery is needed to treat thyroiditis. The operation involves your child having some, or all, of their thyroid gland removed while they are under general anaesthetic. 

    In addition to the normal surgical risks associated with having an operation and anaesthetic, there is a risk that thyroiditis surgery can result in damaging the parathyroid glands (which lie next to the thyroid gland) or the nerve supplying the vocal cords. You can discuss these risks with your child's surgeon and anaesthetist before the operation.

    If your child has surgery, thyroxine treatment will usually be needed for the rest of your child's life. They will need to have follow-up appointments with their doctor at least once a year to check that the dose of thyroxine is correct.

    What causes thyroiditis?

    Thyroiditis can be caused by many things. The most common cause is a chronic (long-term) inflammation of the thyroid gland. This is an autoimmune problem, which means the immune system mistakes the thyroid gland as foreign and starts to attack it. 

    Key points to remember

    • Thyroiditis is inflammation (swelling) of the thyroid gland, which means the body does not make enough of the hormone thyroxine. Thyroxine is important for many functions in the body. 
    • The most common cause of thyroiditis is an autoimmune problem, where the immune system attacks and damages the thyroid.
    • If properly monitored and treated, thyroiditis is not a serious disease. 
    • Some children will need to have surgery to remove part or all of their thyroid.

    For more information

    Common questions our doctors are asked

    Are there any side effects of thyroid hormone replacement?

    When the correct dose is achieved, there are usually no side effects from thyroid hormone replacement therapy. The symptoms of low thyroid hormone levels quickly disappear and most people feel much better.

    Isn't the thyroid gland important in the body? If the thyroid gland is removed in surgery, how will my child's body function properly?

    The thyroid gland is a very important part of the body, but when removed, the thyroid hormone that is no longer produced can be given as a medication.


    Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital General Medicine department. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.

    Reviewed September 2018.

    Kids Health Info is supported by The Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation. To donate, visit www.rchfoundation.org.au.

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Disclaimer
This information is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your doctor or healthcare professionals. The authors of these consumer health information handouts have made a considerable effort to ensure the information is accurate, up to date and easy to understand. The Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne accepts no responsibility for any inaccuracies, information perceived as misleading, or the success of any treatment regimen detailed in these handouts. Information contained in the handouts is updated regularly and therefore you should always check you are referring to the most recent version of the handout. The onus is on you, the user, to ensure that you have downloaded the most up-to-date version of a consumer health information handout.