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Subacute Thyroiditis Differential Diagnoses

  • Author: Stephanie L Lee, MD, PhD; Chief Editor: Romesh Khardori, MD, PhD, FACP  more...
 
Updated: Nov 02, 2015
 
 

Diagnostic Considerations

It is important to determine whether elevated thyroid hormone levels are from the causes listed in this article rather than from excess synthesis of thyroid hormone. Generally, the conditions described here are temporary and therefore do not require definitive therapy, such as thyroid surgery, radioactive iodine treatment, or antithyroid therapy. Radioactive iodine treatment and antithyroid therapy are never appropriate for these forms of subacute thyroiditis.

Conditions to consider in the differential diagnosis of subacute thyroiditis include the following:

  • Acute hemorrhage into a thyroid cyst, nodule, or neoplasm
  • Infectious thyroiditis
  • Radiation-induced thyroiditis
  • Trauma- or palpation-induced thyroiditis
  • Riedel or fibroid thyroiditis
  • Graves thyrotoxicosis
  • Toxic thyroid adenoma
  • Toxic multinodular goiter
  • Acute suppurative thyroiditis

The last disorder in the above list, acute suppurative thyroiditis, is most commonly caused by a bacterial infection of the thyroid via the conduit of a congenital pyriform sinus fistula. This pain and swelling in the early stages can be confused with subacute thyroiditis. A study by Masuoka et al of 60 patients with acute suppurative thyroiditis found that careful imaging can provide clues to an early diagnosis of this condition, which can develop into a life-threatening endocrine emergency.[13]

Differential Diagnoses

 
 
Contributor Information and Disclosures
Author

Stephanie L Lee, MD, PhD Associate Professor, Department of Medicine, Boston University School of Medicine; Director of Thyroid Health Center, Section of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Nutrition, Boston Medical Center; Fellow, Association of Clinical Endocrinology

Stephanie L Lee, MD, PhD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Endocrinology, American Thyroid Association, Endocrine Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Coauthor(s)

Sonia Ananthakrishnan, MD Assistant Professor of Medicine, Section of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Nutrition, Boston Medical Center, Boston University School of Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Romesh Khardori, MD, PhD, FACP Professor of Endocrinology, Director of Training Program, Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism, Strelitz Diabetes and Endocrine Disorders Institute, Department of Internal Medicine, Eastern Virginia Medical School

Romesh Khardori, MD, PhD, FACP is a member of the following medical societies: American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, American College of Physicians, American Diabetes Association, Endocrine Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Acknowledgements

Mark R Allee, MD Associate Professor, Department of Medicine, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center

Mark R Allee, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Physicians

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

KoKo Aung, MD, MPH, FACP Associate Professor, Department of Medicine, University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio; Adjunct Associate Professor of Public Health, University of Texas School of Public Health

KoKo Aung, MD, MPH, FACP is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Physicians

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Mary Zoe Baker, MD Professor, Department of Medicine, Section of Endocrinology, Metabolism and Hypertension, University of Oklahoma; Medical Director, University of Oklahoma Physicians, Medicine Specialty Clinic, General Medicine Clinic and Medicine Residents' Clinic

Mary Zoe Baker, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, American Chemical Society, and American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Daniel Matei Brailita, MD Chief of Infectious Diseases, Mary Lanning Memorial Hospital

Daniel Matei Brailita, MD is a member of the following medical societies: HIV Medicine Association of America and Infectious Diseases Society of America

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

James Burks, MD, FACP, FACE Professor of Medicine, Program Director, Department of Medicine, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center

James Burks, MD, FACP, FACE is a member of the following medical societies: American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, American Diabetes Association, and Endocrine Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Arthur B Chausmer, MD, PhD, FACP, FACE, FACN, CNS Professor of Medicine (Endocrinology, Adj), Johns Hopkins School of Medicine; Affiliate Research Professor, Bioinformatics and Computational Biology Program, School of Computational Sciences, George Mason University; Principal, C/A Informatics, LLC

Arthur B Chausmer, MD, PhD, FACP, FACE, FACN, CNS is a member of the following medical societies: American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, American College of Endocrinology, American College of Nutrition, American College of Physicians, American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine, American Medical Informatics Association, American Society for Bone and Mineral Research, Endocrine Society, and International Society for Clinical Densitometry

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Steven R Gambert, MD, MACP Chairman, Department of Medicine, Physician-in-Chief, Sinai Hospital of Baltimore; Professor of Medicine, Program Director, Internal Medicine Program, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

Steven R Gambert, MD, MACP is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American College of Physician Executives, American College of Physicians, American Geriatrics Society, Association of Professors of Medicine, Endocrine Society, and Gerontological Society of America

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Amir E Harari, MD Staff Physician, Endocrinology Division, Instructor, Department of Clinical Medicine, Naval Medical Center at San Diego

Amir E Harari, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, American College of Physicians, and Endocrine Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Ildiko Lingvay, MD, MPH Assistant Professor, Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas

Ildiko Lingvay, MD, MPH is a member of the following medical societies: Endocrine Society and Texas Medical Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Joseph E Loewenstein, MD Retired

Joseph E Loewenstein, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American College of Physicians, American Diabetes Association, Endocrine Society, and Phi Beta Kappa

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose

Don S Schalch, MD Professor Emeritus, Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Endocrinology, University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics

Don S Schalch, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Diabetes Association, American Federation for Medical Research, Central Society for Clinical Research, and Endocrine Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Medscape Salary Employment

Stanley Wallach, MD Executive Director, American College of Nutrition; Clinical Professor, Department of Medicine, New York University School of Medicine

Stanley Wallach, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Nutrition, American Society for Bone and Mineral Research, American Society for Clinical Investigation, American Society for Clinical Nutrition, American Society for Nutritional Sciences, Association of American Physicians, and Endocrine Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Kent Wehmeier, MD Professor, Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism, St Louis University School of Medicine

Kent Wehmeier, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Society of Hypertension, Endocrine Society, and International Society for Clinical Densitometry

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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Three multinucleated, giant cell granulomas observed in a fine-needle aspiration biopsy of the thyroid; from a patient with thyrotoxicosis resulting from subacute granulomatous thyroiditis.
Absence of iodine-123 (123I) radioactive iodine uptake in a patient with thyrotoxicosis and lymphocytic (subacute painless) thyroiditis. Laboratory studies at the time of the scan demonstrated the following: thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), less than 0.06 mIU/mL; total thyroxine (T4), 21.2 mcg/dL (reference range, 4.5-11); total triiodothyronine (T3), 213 ng/dL (reference range, 90-180); T3-to-T4 ratio, 10; and erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), 10 mm/h. The absence of thyroid uptake, the low T3-to-T4 ratio, and the low ESR confirm the diagnosis of lymphocytic thyroiditis.
Example of laboratory values as they vary over the course of subacute granulomatous thyroiditis. The entire episode may evolve through all 3 phases of the disorder over a period of as long as 6 months.
Table. Characteristic Course of de Quervain Thyroiditis
Parameters Stage 1 Stage 2 Stage 3 Stage 4
Symptoms Hyperthyroid Euthyroid Hypothyroid Euthyroid (recovery)
T4, T3 Elevated Normal Decreased Normal
TSH Decreased Normal Elevated Normal
T4 = thyroxine



T3 = triiodothyronine



TSH = thyroid-stimulating hormone



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