Q: Can thyroid disease be cured?
A: This is a difficult question to answer due to the differences between the ideas of “treatment” vs. “cure”. All thyroid diseases can be treated, resulting in normal thyroid function. However, this frequently requires being on medication to maintain the normal thyroid state.
For example, most patients with thyroid cancer can be cured through surgery and radioactive iodine treatments (see Thyroid Cancer brochure). While their cancer is cured, the curative treatment results in hypothyroidism requiring thyroid hormone replacement for life.
Hyperthyroidism due to Graves’ disease is caused by antibodies attacking the thyroid and turning it on (see Graves’ disease brochure). Antithyroid medication, radioactive iodine, and surgery are all effective treatments and can restore thyroid function to normal. Radioactive iodine and surgery also can “cure” the hyperthyroidism by removing the thyroid. However, the thyroid stimulating antibodies often are unaffected by these treatments, so the underlying cause of Graves’ disease persists. Occasionally, the thyroid stimulating antibodies do go away in patients treated with antithyroid drugs, resulting in remission of the Graves’ disease and allowing for discontinuation of the medications. However, the thyroid stimulating antibodies may return causing the Graves disease to relapse.
A similar situation occurs in patients with hypothyroidism due to Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, which is caused by antibodies attacking and destroying the thyroid (see Hypothyroidism brochure). While thyroid hormone replacement restores the body’s thyroid function to normal, the anti-thyroid antibodies often remain.
There are self-limited thyroid disorders, such as post-partum thyroiditis and subacute thyroiditis, where no therapy is necessary after the disorder runs its course (see Thyroiditis brochure). However, post-partum thyroiditis frequently recurs with subsequent pregnancies.
In summary, the most important aspect of thyroid disease is that effective treatments are available that can restore thyroid function to normal, even if the underlying cause of the disorder is not “cured”. Once diagnosed with thyroid disease, all patients need lifelong medical follow up to ensure that their thyroid function remains in the best range.
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