How do you know if neck pain is really thyroid pain?
Is thyroid pain a serious medical condition?
Will thyroid pain cause other symptoms or problems?
This post will walk you through the causes of thyroid pain including other symptoms you may experience and what you should do about it:
Neck Pain & Thyroid Pain – When is it Serious?
Thyroid pain is never a normal symptom.
But just like any other tissue in your body, your thyroid gland is subject to trauma, inflammation, infection or even autoimmune attack.
All of these conditions may result in damage or inflammation to the thyroid gland which you may feel as pain.
Under normal conditions, it sits in the front of your neck wrapped around a portion of your trachea or windpipe.
If you can feel around the lower part of your neck and it’s tender to the touch then your pain may be caused by your thyroid gland.
Other conditions, such as enlarged lymph nodes, can also cause pain in the neck, but these tend to run underneath the jawline and down the side of the neck.
Believe it or not, thyroid pain is actually a fairly UNCOMMON symptom and most diseases of the thyroid gland do not cause thyroid pain.
This means that the presence of pain in your thyroid gland can give you a special clue as to what is happening in your body.
But make no mistake:
All causes of thyroid pain need to be evaluated and treated because it is never “normal”.
If you are experiencing thyroid pain then the chances are high that you are also experiencing other symptoms as well.
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Other Symptoms Associated with Thyroid Pain
Conditions that cause thyroid pain also tend to cause problems with the thyroid gland itself.
Your thyroid gland helps produce some of the most powerful hormones in your entire body: T3 and T4 thyroid hormones.
If there is any damage to the thyroid gland, either from inflammation or an infection, then the ability of your gland to produce these hormones may be compromised.
Inflammation and pain in the thyroid gland almost always come with some disruption to thyroid hormones.
This means that the chances are quite high that if you have thyroid pain then you will also have other symptoms accompanying that pain.
Disruption of thyroid hormones tends to follow a typical course of symptoms.
If you fall into this category then you will most likely start out feeling the symptoms associated with hyperthyroidism.
Hyperthyroidism is the result of excessive thyroid hormone production.
So when your thyroid is damaged by inflammation it responds by INCREASING the amount of thyroid hormone it produces.
This causes a “flush” in the system which temporarily causes too much thyroid hormone in your body.
During this phase, you may feel symptoms such as:
- Heart palpitations (feeling like your heart is going to beat out of your chest)
- Fever or hot flashes
- Diarrhea (or loose stools)
- Tremors of your hands
- Rapid weight loss
- And an increased body temperature
These symptoms tend to fade over a period of a few weeks to months.
It is during this time frame that you might present to your Doctor knowing that something is “off”.
If the symptoms are affecting your quality of life you can take certain medications which block the impact of thyroid hormone on your body (such as beta-blockers) (2) which should help reduce heart palpitations and so on.
Once the hyperthyroid symptoms fade you will then most likely experience the exact opposite which is known as hypothyroidism.
You can imagine that once your body pumps out all of the thyroid hormones it had in storage that there is little left afterward.
The reduction in thyroid hormone production in this phase may also be caused by temporary, but reversible, damage to the thyroid gland.
During this phase, you may experience the symptoms of hypothyroidism such as:
- Temporary weight gain (sometimes persistent)
- Fatigue or low energy
- Hair loss
- Dry skin
- Depression or other mood changes
- Not feeling like yourself
- Menstrual problems or irregularities
These symptoms are generally NOT permanent and tend to fade over time (a period of a few weeks to months depending on the cause).
It’s always a good idea to get your thyroid tested through routine bloodwork if you are experiencing these symptoms along with thyroid pain.
Conditions that Cause Thyroid Pain
There are actually many different medical conditions that may lead to thyroid pain.
It’s important to differentiate between these conditions because not all of these conditions are treated in the same way.
The good news is that the most common cause of thyroid pain is subacute thyroiditis which will generally go away on its own.
If you are experiencing thyroid pain then you should be evaluated for the following medical conditions:
#1. Subacute Thyroiditis
Any condition which results in inflammation of the thyroid gland may potentially result in pain in that same area.
This particular condition is usually the result of an infection but it can be an infection from a virus or bacteria or fungus.
The most common subtype of subacute thyroiditis is known as subacute granulomatous thyroiditis which is typically caused by a viral infection.
The good news is that viral infections tend to be cleared up by the immune system over time and without any intervention (all you need is rest, some anti-inflammatory supplements or medicines, and time).
Other forms of thyroiditis, such as those caused by bacteria or fungus (4), may require more heavy-duty medications such as antibiotics or antifungals.
Subacute thyroiditis, despite it being the most common cause of neck pain, is actually not very common at all.
This means that you can usually identify the type of thyroiditis that you have simply by whether or not pain is present in your thyroid gland.
If you have pain then the chances are high that your condition is subacute thyroiditis.
If you do not have pain, then the chances are high that your thyroiditis is caused by some other cause.
#2. Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is the most common cause of thyroid inflammation and its caused by an autoimmune attack on the thyroid gland.
You would think that because Hashimoto’s is so common and because it results in inflammation and damage to the thyroid gland that it would present with thyroid pain.
The truth is that MOST patients with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis do NOT have any pain, but that doesn’t mean that all patients will be pain-free.
If you have thyroid pain you can easily test for Hashimoto’s thyroiditis by checking simple thyroid antibodies on routine bloodwork.
Lymphadenopathy refers to the enlargement or swelling of your lymph nodes.
Sometimes, the enlargement of these lymph nodes can be confused for thyroid pain.
The best way to differentiate between enlarged tender lymph nodes and pain in your thyroid gland is located.
The thyroid gland (normally) sits in the FRONT of your neck whereas your lymph nodes tend to follow down the sides of your neck and underneath the jaw/chin.
Some thyroid conditions, such as thyroid cancer or thyroid infection, may result in both thyroid pain and enlargement of your lymph nodes.
#4. Thyroid Cancer
Thyroid cancer generally does NOT cause pain but it can in some instances.
Pain related to thyroid cancer is rare but it should always be thought of.
#5. Postpartum Thyroiditis
Postpartum thyroiditis is a condition of the thyroid gland which develops after pregnancy.
You can identify postpartum thyroiditis because it usually is associated with OTHER symptoms (both hyperthyroid and hypothyroid symptoms) and because it tends to come after pregnancy.
Some of the symptoms of postpartum thyroiditis can mimic postpartum depression so it’s important to diagnose this condition if you feel it is present.
Treatment Options & What to do Next
Treating thyroid pain should focus on identifying and diagnosing the underlying cause.
Each treatment, for the conditions listed above, may be different.
Some conditions, such as postpartum thyroiditis and subacute thyroiditis, may go away on their own with time and simple anti-inflammatory medications.
On the other hand, some conditions, such as thyroid cancer and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, are not likely to go away without serious treatment or intervention.
In most cases, you will probably need to take something to cool off the inflammation in your thyroid gland to help reduce the pain.
It’s important to note that the treatment for thyroid pain will probably not alter the other symptoms that we discussed previously.
Treating these symptoms may require thyroid hormone medication or other medications to temporarily blunt thyroid hormone.
Thyroid pain is a relatively uncommon symptom among patients who have thyroid problems.
Having said that, it’s still a serious condition that needs to be evaluated by a physician if present.
Once you have a diagnosis you can hone in on treatment options.
Thyroid pain is often accompanied by symptoms related to changes in thyroid hormone in your body.
These symptoms may range from fatigue to weight gain to hair loss and more.
Most of the time, thyroid pain is a sign of inflammation related to an infection or your immune system which will fade on its own over time (but not always).
When in doubt make sure that you touch base with your Doctor to get the right lab tests to figure out what is going on in your body.
Now I want to hear from you:
Are you suffering from thyroid pain?
Do you know why you have it?
Have you been able to find relief?
Are you also experiencing the symptoms of thyroid hormone dysfunction?
Leave your comments below!