Can certain thyroid conditions go away by themselves?
Most thyroid conditions can’t be cured, but are there certain conditions that can go away by themselves?
It's often thought that thyroid conditions are incurable. While many thyroid conditions like Graves' disease and Hashimoto's thyroiditis are lifelong, symptoms and thyroid hormone levels can be managed with the right treatment, and may even bring the condition into remission.
Some thyroid conditions, on the other hand, may be curable, transient, or self-resolving. In this article, we look at some examples.
In this blog, we discuss:
- What is thyroiditis?
- Can thyroiditis go away by itself?
- Types of thyroiditis: subacute, postpartum, and drug-induced
- What is painless thyroiditis?
- How does an iodine deficiency affect my thyroid?
- Can certain thyroid conditions go away by themselves?
What is thyroiditis?
Thyroiditis is the swelling or inflammation of the thyroid gland . It can cause thyroid hormone levels to become too high or too low and lead to unwanted symptoms. There are several different types of thyroiditis, such as Hashimoto’s and subacute thyroiditis.
Symptoms of thyroiditis include :
- Pain in the throat
- Feeling unwell
- Swelling of the thyroid gland
- Symptoms of an overactive thyroid gland
- Symptoms of an underactive thyroid gland
Can thyroiditis go away by itself?
Some types of thyroiditis such as Hashimoto’s are incurable, but there are certain types of thyroiditis that, in some cases, can go away by themselves.
Types of thyroiditis that may self-resolve include:
What is subacute thyroiditis?
Subacute thyroiditis, or De Quervain’s thyroiditis, is inflammation of the thyroid gland that is thought to be triggered by a viral or upper respiratory infection, such as the flu, or even COVID – a recent study has suggested that subacute thyroiditis more frequently affects patients with severe COVID-19 rather than mild disease .
Subacute thyroiditis usually starts with a thyrotoxic (overactive) phase which is then often followed by an underactive phase.
Subacute thyroiditis almost always self-resolves, but it can sometimes take weeks or even months to do so (and you may need treatment in the meantime). In rare circumstances, subacute thyroiditis can lead to permanent hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid).
The takeaway: Subacute thyroiditis is the inflammation of the thyroid gland, usually triggered by a viral infection such as the flu. It usually goes away by itself with no treatment.
What is postpartum thyroiditis?
Postpartum thyroiditis is a type of autoimmune thyroid condition that causes your thyroid glands to become inflamed. It develops in some women (around 5%) within the first year of giving birth .
Experts aren’t sure what causes postpartum thyroiditis, but it is similar in nature to Hashimoto’s disease (blood tests tend to show high levels of anti-thyroid antibodies such as anti-TPO and/or anti-thyroglobulin) – meaning it can be hard to tell the two conditions apart. The symptoms of postpartum thyroiditis will depend on whether your thyroid hormone levels are too low or too high.
Postpartum thyroiditis is usually short-term and tends to self-resolve within 12 to 18 months of the onset of symptoms. However, some cases do not resolve and can lead to the development of permanent hypothyroidism .
Am I at risk of developing postpartum thyroiditis?
Any woman can develop postpartum thyroiditis, but some women are at higher risk.
The risks for developing postpartum thyroiditis include:
- Presence of antithyroid antibodies before pregnancy
- Type 1 diabetes
- A history of thyroid problems
- Family history of thyroid problems
What is the treatment for postpartum thyroiditis?
If postpartum thyroiditis is suspected, it will be regularly monitored in the first instance. Sometimes, treatments may be needed, and the treatment will depend on your symptoms and your thyroid hormone levels.
With or without treatment, most cases (as many as four out of five) will resolve within 12 to 18 months after the onset of symptoms.
What is drug-induced thyroiditis?
Certain drugs or medications can damage the thyroid, causing unwanted symptoms, such as pain around the thyroid .
The symptoms of drug-induced thyroiditis don’t usually last long and may get better after you stop taking the medicine that caused it. However, you should not stop taking any prescribed medication without talking to your doctor first.
Drugs that can cause thyroiditis, include:
- Interferons (used to treat cancer)
- Lithium (taken for some mental health conditions)
Some iodine-based medications can also cause thyroiditis, such as amiodarone. This is because the levels of iodine in the body affect how well your thyroid works, so any change in levels (through deficiency, supplements, or medication) can cause adverse effects.
What is painless thyroiditis?
Painless thyroiditis, also known as silent thyroiditis, is an autoimmune condition characterised by inflammation of the thyroid gland. Like post-partum thyroiditis, there is usually a phase of high thyroid hormone levels, causing symptoms of an overactive thyroid. This is often followed by an underactive thyroid phase before recovery of normal thyroid function. However, for some people, the thyroid remains underactive permanently.
The condition can occur spontaneously, postnatally, during treatment with certain medications, or as a result of an infection.
Treatment, if needed, includes beta-blockers for the overactive thyroid phase, and levothyroxine for the underactive thyroid phase.
How does an iodine deficiency affect my thyroid?
Iodine is one of the most important minerals for thyroid health in adults . Therefore, if you have too little iodine in your body, it can affect how your thyroid functions.
In severe cases of iodine deficiency, you may develop a goitre (swelling of the thyroid gland) and hypothyroidism due to the body’s inability to produce thyroid hormones .
One positive of iodine deficiency-induced hypothyroidism is that it can easily be reversed by increasing your iodine intake.
Iodine-rich sources include:
- Iodine-fortified plant milk
Can certain thyroid conditions go away by themselves?
Yes. Some can. As we’ve discussed in this blog, there are many circumstances where a thyroid condition can go away by itself. However, if you are experiencing symptoms of a thyroid condition, you should still speak to a medical professional as many require treatment or regular monitoring – it depends on the cause.
You can find even more information about the thyroid and thyroid conditions in our Thyroid Hub.
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- Muller, I. et al. (2020) “SARS-COV-2-related atypical thyroiditis,” The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, 8(9), pp. 739–741. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/s2213-8587(20)30266-7.
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- Subclinical hypothyroidism: What it is, symptoms & treatment (no date) Cleveland Clinic. Available at: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/23544-subclinical-hypothyroidism (Accessed: February 23, 2023).
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- Fatourechi V. Subclinical hypothyroidism: an update for primary care physicians. Mayo Clin Proc. 2009;84(1):65-71. doi: 10.1016/S0025-6196(11)60809-4. PMID: 19121255; PMCID: PMC2664572. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2664572/
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