Current Issue - 2006, Volume 1 Number 2 & 3


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Keah Say Hien1 FRACGP, Leong Choong Kheong2 FRCS, AM
1Family Physician, Elizabeth Medical Centre
2Consultant Surgeon, Hospital Pantai Ayer Keroh, Melaka, Malaysia.

Address for correspondence: Dr Richard Keah, Elizabeth Medical Centre Sdn Bhd, 1-14 Jalan Arab, 84000 Muar, Johor. Tel: 06-9535335, Fax: 06-9543100, Email:


Acute suppurative thyroiditis is a rare disorder. We saw a 24 year old man with this condition that present atypically. The patient had a non-tender thyroid enlargement associated with fever and leukocytosis. FNA cytology clinched the diagnosis. The abscess was associated with Klebsiella pneumoniae septicemia and required surgical drainage after failing antibiotic therapy.

Keywords: Acute suppurative thyroiditis, Klebsiella pneumoniae septicaemia

Keah SH, Leong CK. Acute suppurative thyroiditis presenting as a painless thyroid swelling. Malaysian Family Physician. 2006;1(2&3):54-57


Thyroid diseases are common in primary care, especially hyperthyroidism (mostly due to Grave’s disease) and thyroid nodules. With regard to thyroiditides, the general practitioner is likely to encounter a spectrum of conditions which were traditionally classified based on time course of the disease into the acute, subacute and chronic thyroiditis.1 Chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis or Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is remarkably common, the subacute variety (typified by De Quervian’s thyroiditis) is occasionally seen, but the acute microbial thyroiditis or acute suppurative thyroiditis is exceedingly rare. We present a case of acute suppurative thyroiditis to demonstrate the diagnostic challenge involved. The mortality associated with this disease, if left untreated, may approach 100%.2


GBL, a 24-year-old engineering trainee was seen in the primary care clinic complaining of high fever for 5 days associated with body pains. He was a non-drinker and non-smoker and was previously well. On the 6th day he noticed a painless swelling of the right side of the neck. He was febrile with a temperature of 38.9 oC. Examination of the neck revealed a mildly tender, 3-cm nodule in the right side of the neck which moved with swallowing. Clinically he was euthyroid. The rest of the systems examination was essentially normal.

He was admitted on the evening of the 6th day with chills, rigors and vomiting. Investigations done in the outpatient and in the ward revealed neutrophil leucocytosis, microscopic haematuria, hyponatraemia and mild hepatitis. His HIV test and hepatitis serological tests were negative.

Further investigations and progress in the ward

His urine culture was negative but blood culture grew Klebsiella pneumoniae. Spiral CT scan of neck, chest and abdomen was done. CT scan of the neck showed a large ill-defined hypodense mass in the region of the thyroid displacing the trachea to the left, extending from the retropharyngeal region till sternal notch level with

involvement of the right para-laryngeal space, pre-vertebral space and right thyroid lobe. Radiologically the mass was consistent with cystic change or abscess formation. A differential diagnosis would be an aggressive infiltrating tumour (see Figure 1). CT scans of the chest, kidney and pelvis were normal. Fine needle aspiration cytology (FNAC) right thyroid nodule obtained predominantly acute inflammatory cells suggestive of abscess formation. No malignant cells were identified.

The fever subsided after a few days of intravenous sulperazone but recurred and prompted the consideration of a surgical option. Exploration and drainage of the thyroid abscess was finally done one week after admission. Intra-operatively, pus was found in the thyroid gland and tracking up the neck into the parapharyngeal spaces. Tissue obtained intraoperatively was consistent with acute thyroiditis with foci of suppuration. Culture of the pus from thyroid grew Klebsiella pneumoniae.

Postoperatively he developed a discharging sinus over the wound site on the right side of the neck. This finally healed with antibiotics and daily dressings. Further radiological studies were not done. The thyroid hormones which were elevated reverted to normal a few weeks later.


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