Riedel thyroiditis is a rare inflammatory condition characterized by the fibrosis of the thyroid gland. To put this rarity into perspective, out of 56,000 thyroidectomies performed at the Mayo Clinic over 64 years, only 37 were linked to Riedel thyroiditis. With an incidence rate that makes it considerably less common than other thyroid conditions, such as Hashimoto's thyroiditis, understanding and addressing Riedel thyroiditis requires a specialized approach.
In this article, we will discuss what Riedel thyroiditis is, what causes it, and what its main symptoms are. We will also discuss integrative and complementary strategies for managing this condition, highlighting the most effective testing, dietary modifications, and therapeutic interventions.
What is Riedel Thyroiditis?
Riedel thyroiditis, commonly referred to as Riedel fibrosing thyroiditis or Riedel struma, is a relatively rare condition characterized by chronic inflammation and fibrosis of the thyroid gland. This leads to a significantly hardened gland, often described as "hard-as-wood" or akin to a "stone-like" goiter that can be palpably detected during a clinical examination. Over time, the thyroid's standard tissue, essential for producing thyroid hormones, gets replaced with this dense fibrous tissue, leading to the extensive destruction of its follicular cells.
In addition to directly affecting the thyroid, the fibrotic process of Riedel thyroiditis can also spread to neighboring structures, particularly the airways. This progression can result in obstructive symptoms, which might manifest as breathing challenges (dyspnea), swallowing difficulties (dysphagia), or voice alterations due to airway compression. Furthermore, Riedel thyroiditis has been associated with IgG4-related disease, a broader condition encompassing disorders such as orbital pseudotumors and autoimmune pancreatitis (2).
Riedel Thyroiditis Signs & Symptoms
Riedel thyroiditis typically presents with a range of clinical manifestations that chiefly involve the thyroid and surrounding neck structures (2):
Hard and enlarged thyroid: One of the hallmark features is a palpably firm, sometimes described as "rock-hard", thyroid mass in the anterior neck, which might remain immobile during swallowing due to its adherence to adjacent neck structures.
Obstructive symptoms: These arise from the involvement and compression of various neck structures:
- Dyspnea resulting from tracheal involvement.
- Dysphagia caused by esophageal involvement.
- Stridor and possible aphonia from recurrent laryngeal nerve involvement.
- Venous sinus thrombosis stemming from vasculature involvement.
Ocular symptoms: Exophthalmos or bulging of the eyes can be seen secondary to the involvement of retrobulbar tissues.
Indicators of other complications:
- Positive Chvostek or Trousseau sign, suggesting hypoparathyroidism due to the impact on the parathyroid glands.
- Hypothyroidism: Initially, hypothyroidism was observed less frequently, but later studies found this condition present in a considerable proportion of patients. The occurrence might be influenced by the extent of thyroid involvement or the presence of accompanying conditions like Hashimoto's thyroiditis. In some cases, hypothyroidism followed thyrotoxicosis, attributed to subacute thyroiditis types (1).
- Hyperthyroidism: While rarer, some patients present with hyperthyroidism linked to conditions like Graves' disease (1).
- Presence of anti-thyroid antibodies: Over time, there has been an increased observation of thyroid autoantibodies in patients with Riedel thyroiditis, pointing towards possible autoimmune associations (1).
What Causes Riedel Thyroiditis?
The exact cause of Riedel's thyroiditis remains unclear, though various theories have been suggested based on clinical and research observations:
Riedel's thyroiditis has features that resemble autoimmune disorders, such as the presence of anti-thyroid antibodies and a response to specific treatments like glucocorticoids. However, there are inconsistencies in this theory due to the absence of certain antibodies and the presence of normal immune cell counts (1,2).
IgG4-Related Systemic Disease
Some researchers believe there might be a connection between Riedel's thyroiditis and IgG4-related systemic disease. This disease affects multiple systems in the body and is characterized by certain types of inflammation and fibrosis. But, this link is not confirmed in all cases of Riedel's (2).
Multifocal Idiopathic Fibrosclerosis
Riedel's thyroiditis has been observed alongside other fibrosing conditions, suggesting it might be part of a broader condition called multifocal idiopathic fibrosclerosis. However, most people with Riedel's don't develop other related conditions (2).
Other Potential Factors
Some reports suggest Riedel's thyroiditis could be related to other conditions like subacute thyroiditis or even to lifestyle factors such as smoking (2).
Functional Medicine Labs to Help Individualize Treatment Plans For Patients With Riedel Thyroiditis
Functional medicine labs offer a variety of tests that can help tailor treatment to patients, allowing providers to optimize management strategies.
Riedel thyroiditis is a chronic inflammatory condition. In fact, although limited, one study showed that C-reactive protein was elevated in 72% of patients, while erythrocyte sedimentation rate was elevated in 97% of them. Testing these levels (CRP and ESR) can help to provide a picture of inflammatory levels in the body. By establishing a baseline and retesting after interventions, providers can gauge the effectiveness of treatments in reducing inflammation.
Testing for Systemic Inflammation
Given the link between this condition and chronic inflammation, it's crucial to pinpoint and mitigate inflammation sources within the body. Addressing these sources can potentially alleviate symptoms by decreasing the overall inflammatory load. Essential tests for this purpose encompass stool tests, food sensitivity evaluations, and stress assessments. These are vital as gut health influences systemic inflammation, certain foods can trigger inflammatory reactions, and persistent stress is known to amplify inflammation levels in the body (2).
Given the potential for thyroid dysfunction with this disorder, thyroid testing can help to provide insight into thyroid function. Thyroid function tests in this population frequently reveal hypothyroidism and increased levels of anti-TPO antibodies. The presence of anti-TPO antibodies would suggest an autoimmune component (1,2).
Additional Lab Tests
Various tests are standardly used to diagnose Riedel thyroiditis. Ultrasonography may display a hypoechoic (dense tissue) mass, while CT scans further detail this; PET scans can reveal uptake in inflammatory areas. Definitive diagnosis often requires an open biopsy, as fine needle aspiration might be inconclusive (2).
Conventional Treatment for Riedel Thyroiditis
There's no standardized treatment for Riedel thyroiditis due to its rarity. Surgical intervention, primarily to alleviate compressive symptoms, is limited given the high complication rate; glucocorticoids like prednisone are central to medical treatment, but responses vary. Additionally, tamoxifen, an estrogen receptor modulator, and mycophenolate mofetil, an immunosuppressive agent with anti-fibrotic properties, have been utilized in some cases with success (2).
Integrative Medicine Treatment for Riedel Thyroiditis
In treating Riedel thyroiditis, integrative medicine focuses on diminishing inflammation using various therapies, enhancing overall health and lifestyle habits, and optimizing thyroid functionality.
Nutrition Guidelines For Riedel Thyroiditis Patients
Given that this disorder is characterized by chronic inflammation, care should be taken to reduce levels of inflammation in the body. Thankfully, nutrition choices can play a big role in reducing inflammation! Therefore, one great diet choice for these patients would be the anti-inflammatory diet. This diet focuses on consuming foods that are rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids, such as berries, green leafy vegetables, and fatty fish like salmon. Avoiding processed foods, sugars, and certain vegetable oils, which can exacerbate inflammation, is also key to the success of this diet. This diet is very similar to the Mediterranean diet, which is also a good choice due to its anti-inflammatory focus.
Supplements & Herbs
Given the link between Riedel thyroiditis and inflammation, supplements that reduce systemic inflammation may help to improve symptomatology. Some of the most research-backed supplements include ginger, turmeric, omega-3s and probiotics. For concurrent thyroid dysfunction, especially for those who present with hypothyroidism, supplements such as ashwagandha, vitamin D, and zinc may help support optimal thyroid health (10).
Complementary and Integrative Medicine
Chronic stress is intrinsically linked to inflammation, a primary characteristic of Riedel thyroiditis. Incorporating balanced lifestyle habits, such as regular sleep, moderate exercise like yoga and Qi gong, and mindful stress management, can, therefore, be instrumental. Yoga, breathing exercises, and meditation can all offer stress relief. Meanwhile, the added benefits of spending time outdoors may help optimize vitamin D levels and establish a connection with the natural world, both of which are important in managing inflammation (13).
Complementary therapies further add to this approach. Chiropractic treatments, which realign spinal structures, enhance nervous and immune system functions while reducing inflammation. This, in tandem with acupuncture, helps to modulate the immune system, and its inherent stress-relieving properties can potentially cut down systemic inflammation.
Such therapies, combined with established stress reduction techniques like meditation and controlled breathing, offer a comprehensive strategy for Riedel thyroiditis patients. As always, be sure to consult with all your healthcare providers before initiating any complementary and alternative therapies to ensure coordinated and safe care.
In summary, Riedel thyroiditis is a rare condition that causes fibrosis in the thyroid gland. This leads to a set of distinct symptoms like a hardened thyroid, often palpable during clinical checks, and potential compression of surrounding structures, leading to breathing or swallowing difficulties. Beyond the standard tests, a comprehensive panel, including tests that gauge inflammation and the possible involvement of other bodily systems, can offer a more holistic view of the condition's extent. Taking an integrative approach by combining medical interventions with complementary therapies and nutritional guidelines can provide a balanced and effective strategy for managing Riedel thyroiditis.
Lab Tests in This Article
- Hennessey, J. V. (2011, October 1). Riedel’s Thyroiditis: A Clinical Review. OUP Academic. https://doi.org/10.1210/jc.2011-0617
- Y. Gosi, S. K., Nguyen, M., & Garla, V. V. (2023, July 17). Riedel Thyroiditis - StatPearls - NCBI Bookshelf. Riedel Thyroiditis - StatPearls - NCBI Bookshelf. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537303/
- Falhammar, H., Juhlin, C. C., Barner, C., Catrina, S. B., Karefylakis, C., & Calissendorff, J. (2018, January 29). Riedel’s thyroiditis: clinical presentation, treatment and outcomes. PubMed Central (PMC). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12020-018-1526-3
- Rupa Health. (2023, May 24). Rupa Health. https://www.rupahealth.com/post/pancrease-101-with-testing-top-conditions
- Zala, A., Berhane, T., Juhlin, C. C., Calissendorff, J., & Falhammar, H. (2020, September 1). Riedel Thyroiditis. OUP Academic. https://doi.org/10.1210/clinem/dgaa468
- Rupa Health. (2023, March 24). Rupa Health. https://www.rupahealth.com/post/why-functional-medicine-practitioners-focus-on-gut-health
- Rupa Health. (2021, November 17). Rupa Health. https://www.rupahealth.com/post/a-functional-medicine-approach-to-food-sensitivities-testing-and-treatment
- Rupa Health. (2023, February 22). Rupa Health. https://www.rupahealth.com/post/how-stress-affects-our-gut-health
- Thyroid peroxidase antibody test: What is it? (2022, July 16). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/thyroid-disease/expert-answers/faq-20058114
- Rupa Health. (2023, May 22). Rupa Health. https://www.rupahealth.com/post/anti-inflammatory-diet
- 4 Science Backed Health Benefits of The Mediterranean Diet. (2022, November 16). Rupa Health. https://www.rupahealth.com/post/4-science-backed-health-benefits-of-the-mediterranean-diet
- Rupa Health. (2023, January 6). Rupa Health. https://www.rupahealth.com/post/omega-3s-the-superfood-nutrient-you-need-to-know-about
- Rupa Health. (2022, September 7). Rupa Health. https://www.rupahealth.com/post/understanding-hypothyroidism-and-how-to-treat-it-naturally