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Autoimmune Thyroid Disorders


  • Autoimmune thyroid disorders are conditions where the immune system (defense against infections and diseases) attacks your thyroid gland. The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped organ that is found in the front part of your neck. The thyroid hormones help control how your body works, including your heart rate, growth, and body temperature. Grave's disease, Hashimoto's thyroiditis, postpartum and silent sporadic thyroiditis are types of autoimmune thyroid disorders. You may be born with these conditions, or they may be caused by stressful events, infections, or heavy smoking. Having too much or too little iodine in your diet may also cause any of these conditions.
    Thyroid and Parathyroid Glands
  • You may have signs and symptoms of hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, or both with an autoimmune thyroid disorder. Hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland makes too much thyroid hormones. When this happens, you may tremble, your heart may beat very fast, and you may lose weight without trying. Hypothyroidism occurs when there are low levels of thyroid hormones in the blood. When this happens, your voice may be hoarse, you may feel weak and gain weight, and your heart may beat slowly. These conditions are found using blood tests, biopsy, thyroid scan, and ultrasound. Treatment may include thyroid medicine or radioactive iodine. Surgery to remove the thyroid gland may also be done. Finding and treating these conditions as soon as you have symptoms can relieve your symptoms and prevent other medical problems.


You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment.


  • Medicine used to treat these conditions may cause skin rashes, fever, joint pain, or liver problems. Surgery may damage nearby nerves, tissues and other organs. Your larynx (voice box) may stop working. You may also bleed more than expected or get an infection from surgery. You may have neck pain or decreased ability to taste from the treatments. Even after treatment, your signs and symptoms may stay or come back.
  • If left untreated, the problems or symptoms you have may worsen. Hyperthyroidism may increase your temperature and blood pressure, and your heart may not function correctly. Hypothyroidism may grow into a dangerous condition called myxedema. With this condition, you may have fluid and swelling in your legs, ankles, lungs, or around your heart. Your temperature decreases, your heart may beat very slowly, and you may have problems thinking clearly. You may even go into a coma or die if you do not get care right away. Women who are pregnant and have hypothyroidism can have health problems. Their unborn baby can also have problems. If you are female, tell your caregiver if you know or think you might be pregnant. Ask your caregiver if you have questions or concerns about your condition, treatment or care.


Informed consent

is a legal document that explains the tests, treatments, or procedures that you may need. Informed consent means you understand what will be done and can make decisions about what you want. You give your permission when you sign the consent form. You can have someone sign this form for you if you are not able to sign it. You have the right to understand your medical care in words you know. Before you sign the consent form, understand the risks and benefits of what will be done. Make sure all your questions are answered.


You may need to rest in bed. Ask caregivers if you may exercise your legs in bed. Do this by lifting one leg off the bed and drawing big circles with your toes. Your caregiver will tell you when it is OK to get out of bed. Call your caregiver before getting up for the first time. If you feel weak or dizzy, sit or lie down right away.


Your diet will depend on the type of autoimmune thyroid disorder that you have. Your body uses a lot of energy when it has too much thyroid hormone. You may need to eat more food to give your body the extra energy it needs. When you do not have enough thyroid hormones, you may need to eat foods rich in iodine. Iodine is an important mineral used by the thyroid gland to make thyroid hormones.

Heart monitor:

This is also called an ECG or EKG. Sticky pads placed on your skin record your heart's electrical activity.

An IV (intravenous)

is a small tube placed in your vein that is used to give you medicine or liquids.


  • Anti-thyroid medicine: This medicine decreases the amount of thyroid hormone made by your thyroid gland. This medicine can also cause your thyroid to stop making thyroid hormone completely.
  • Heart medicine: This medicine is given to strengthen or regulate your heartbeat. It also may help your heart in other ways. Talk with your caregiver to find out what your heart medicine is and why you are taking it.
  • Steroids: This medicine may be given to decrease inflammation.
  • Thyroid hormone: You are given this medicine to bring your thyroid hormone level back to normal.


  • Blood tests: Blood is taken to learn how well your thyroid gland is working. These tests tell caregivers how high or how low your thyroid hormone levels are in your blood. Blood tests may also show how well any treatments are working.
  • Fine needle biopsy: This is a procedure where a very small piece of your thyroid gland is taken for tests. A biopsy checks for problems such as thyroid cancer. Your caregiver may use medicine to numb the front part of your neck. A small needle is inserted to get the tissue sample from your thyroid gland. After the sample is collected, a bandage may cover the biopsy area, and the sample is sent to the lab for tests.
  • Thyroid scan: This test shows caregivers how well your thyroid is working. Radioactive dye is put into your IV or is given to you to drink. The working part of the thyroid gland absorbs (soaks up) the dye. Two to 48 hours later, caregivers put a machine called a scintillator over your neck. The machine takes pictures showing the areas of your thyroid that absorbed the dye.
  • Thyroid ultrasound: This is a test using sound waves to look at your thyroid gland. Pictures of your thyroid gland show up on a TV-like screen.

Treatment options:

  • Radioactive iodine: Iodine is an important mineral used by the thyroid gland to work properly. A radioactive form of iodine is given to damage or kill some thyroid gland cells and treat hyperthyroidism. This may decrease the amount of thyroid hormone made by the thyroid gland. This is not given to pregnant or breast feeding women.
  • Surgery: The thyroid gland is removed for those who cannot have radioactive iodine medicine. This is also done for very young children, pregnant women and those with thyroid eye disease. You may be given antithyroid medicine, iodine, or both for several months before surgery. These medicines will decrease your symptoms and make the thyroid gland smaller before surgery.

Vital signs:

Caregivers will check your blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate, and temperature. They will also ask about your pain. These vital signs give caregivers information about your current health.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.