The COVID-19 pandemic has not only affected the respiratory system but has also raised concerns about its impact on the endocrine system. Recent research from multiple institutions has highlighted the potential for SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19, to induce autoimmune thyroid diseases (AITD).
One of the key findings of this research is that the virus enters human cells through the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) receptor, which is present in various tissues, including the thyroid. Autopsy reports have shown that viral genetic material and proteins can be found within thyroid cells, suggesting that the virus can infect and replicate within the thyroid gland.
During the acute phase of COVID-19, patients have been observed to experience thyroid-related abnormalities. These include subacute thyroiditis (SAT), which is characterized by inflammation of the thyroid gland, as well as thyrotoxicosis and non-thyroidal illness syndrome (NTIS). However, it is important to note that most patients tend to recover their thyroid function over time.
The link between COVID-19 and autoimmune thyroid diseases, such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Graves’ disease, is a growing area of interest. One possible explanation for this association is the hyper-stimulation of the immune system by the virus. Another potential mechanism is molecular mimicry, where the viral proteins resemble thyroid antigens, leading to an autoimmune response. Additionally, neutrophil extracellular traps and transcriptional changes in immune genes have also been suggested as contributing factors.
While our understanding of the relationship between SARS-CoV-2 and AITD is still evolving, further research is needed to fully comprehend the mechanisms involved and develop strategies for managing these conditions in COVID-19 patients and beyond. As the global scientific community continues to investigate the long-term effects of COVID-19 on various bodily systems, including the endocrine system, it is crucial to stay informed and vigilant in order to provide the best possible care for patients.