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  • Author: Robert P Hoffman, MD; Chief Editor: Stephen Kemp, MD, PhD  more...
Updated: Sep 04, 2015


The broad category of thyroiditis includes the following inflammatory diseases of the thyroid gland: (1) acute suppurative thyroiditis, which is due to bacterial infection; (2) subacute thyroiditis, which results from a viral infection of the gland; and (3) chronic thyroiditis, which is usually autoimmune in nature. In childhood, chronic thyroiditis is the most common of these 3 types. The second form of thyroiditis, Riedel struma, is rare in children. Secondary thyroiditis may be due to the administration of amiodarone to treat cardiac arrhythmias or the administration of interferon-alpha to treat viral diseases.

Three multinuclear, giant cell granulomas observed Three multinuclear, giant cell granulomas observed in a fine-needle aspiration biopsy of the thyroid; from a patient with thyrotoxicosis from lymphocytic or subacute granulomatous thyroiditis.


Acute suppurative thyroiditis is rare in childhood because the thyroid is remarkably resistant to hematogenously spread infection. Most cases of acute thyroiditis involve the left lobe of the thyroid and are associated with a developmental abnormality of thyroid migration and the persistence of a pyriform sinus from the pharynx to the thyroid capsule. The usual organisms responsible include Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus hemolyticus, and pneumococcus. Other aerobic or anaerobic bacteria may also be involved.

Subacute thyroiditis is generally thought to be due to viral processes and usually follows a prodromal viral illness. Various viral illnesses may precede the disease, including mumps, measles, influenza, infectious mononucleosis, adenoviral or Coxsackievirus infections, myocarditis, or the common cold. Other illnesses or situations associated with subacute thyroiditis include catscratch fever, sarcoidosis, Q fever, malaria, emotional crisis, or dental work. The disease is more common in individuals with human leukocyte antigen (HLA)–Bw35.

Because chronic thyroiditis in children is usually due to an autoimmune process, it is HLA-associated, similar to other autoimmune endocrine diseases. The specific alleles in the atrophic and goitrous forms of the disease vary. The histologic disease picture varies, but lymphocytic thyroid infiltration is the hallmark of the disease and frequently obliterates much of the normal thyroid tissue. Follicular thyroid cells may be small or hyperplastic. The degree of fibrosis among patients also widely varies. Children usually have hyperplasia with minimal fibrosis. The blood contains autoantibodies to thyroid peroxidase and, frequently, autoantibodies to thyroglobulin. Autoimmune thyroiditis is also frequently part of the polyglandular autoimmune syndromes.




United States

Studies in the United States and Western Europe report a prevalence of 1.2% in individuals aged 11-18 years. Approximately 25% of adults with type 1 diabetes have thyroiditis, about one half of whom have hypothyroidism. Approximately 10% of children with type 1 diabetes have antithyroid antibodies. Thirteen of 121 children with vitiligo were also found to have subsequent evidence of autoimmune thyroiditis.[1] The disease is also more common in children with Down syndrome or Turner syndrome. Acute suppurative thyroiditis is rare in Western nations. Subacute thyroiditis is rare in childhood.


The prevalence of chronic autoimmune thyroiditis varies depending on screening procedures. A Greek study showed a prevalence of thyroid antibodies as high as 12.5% in some areas. Few data are available regarding the incidence of the various forms of thyroiditis in the non-Western world. Acute thyroiditis is more common in geographic areas where antibiotic use is less prevalent.


Long-term morbidity or mortality from thyroiditis is uncommon. Patients with autoimmune thyroiditis frequently develop hypothyroidism and require lifelong treatment. Patients with subacute thyroiditis may briefly have hyperthyroidism but usually regain normal thyroid function. Patients with acute thyroiditis generally maintain normal thyroid function.


The pediatric male-to-female ratio for autoimmune thyroiditis ranges from 1:2 to 1:6. This is low when compared with the 90% female predominance in adults.[2, 3, 4]



Acute thyroiditis

Recovery is usually complete, and thyroid function returns to normal.

Subacute thyroiditis

This self-limiting disease may last 2-7 months.

Chronic autoimmune thyroiditis

Permanent hypothyroidism is the main complication. Approximately 20% of children with subclinical hypothyroidism enter remission and become euthyroidism.[4]

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Robert P Hoffman, MD Professor and Program Director, Department of Pediatrics, Ohio State University College of Medicine; Pediatric Endocrinologist, Division of Pediatric, Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism, Nationwide Children's Hospital

Robert P Hoffman, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Pediatricians, American Diabetes Association, American Pediatric Society, Christian Medical and Dental Associations, Endocrine Society, Midwest Society for Pediatric Research, Pediatric Endocrine Society, Society for Pediatric Research

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Mary L Windle, PharmD Adjunct Associate Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Lynne Lipton Levitsky, MD Chief, Pediatric Endocrine Unit, Massachusetts General Hospital; Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School

Lynne Lipton Levitsky, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Diabetes Association, American Pediatric Society, Endocrine Society, Pediatric Endocrine Society, Society for Pediatric Research

Disclosure: Received grant/research funds from Eli Lilly for pi; Received grant/research funds from NovoNordisk for pi; Received consulting fee from NovoNordisk for consulting; Partner received consulting fee from Onyx Heart Valve for consulting.

Chief Editor

Stephen Kemp, MD, PhD Former Professor, Department of Pediatrics, Section of Pediatric Endocrinology, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences College of Medicine, Arkansas Children's Hospital

Stephen Kemp, MD, PhD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics, American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, American Pediatric Society, Endocrine Society, Phi Beta Kappa, Southern Medical Association, Southern Society for Pediatric Research

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Additional Contributors

Arlan L Rosenbloom, MD Adjunct Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of Pediatrics, University of Florida College of Medicine; Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics; Fellow of the American College of Epidemiology

Arlan L Rosenbloom, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Epidemiology, American Pediatric Society, Endocrine Society, Pediatric Endocrine Society, Society for Pediatric Research, Florida Chapter of The American Academy of Pediatrics, Florida Pediatric Society, International Society for Pediatric and Adolescent Diabetes

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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Three multinuclear, giant cell granulomas observed in a fine-needle aspiration biopsy of the thyroid; from a patient with thyrotoxicosis from lymphocytic or subacute granulomatous thyroiditis.
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