Clinical and diagnostic aspects of encephalopathy associated with autoimmune thyroid disease (or Hashimoto's encephalopathy)

Gianluca Tamagno, Giovanni Federspil, Giovanni Murialdo

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Encephalopathy associated with autoimmune thyroid disease, currently known as Hashimoto's encephalopathy, but also defined as corticosteroid-responsive encephalopathy associated with autoimmune thyroiditis, is a relatively rare condition observed in a small percentage of patients presenting with autoimmune thyroid disease. It consists of a subacute, relapsing-remitting, steroid-responsive encephalopathy characterised by protean neurologic and neuropsychiatric symptoms, diffuse electroencephalographic abnormalities and increased titres of antithyroid antibodies in serum and/or in cerebrospinal fluid. Most of the cases presenting this neurologic complication are affected by Hashimoto's thyroiditis or, less frequently, by other autoimmune thyroid diseases, chiefly Graves' disease. The pathogenesis of this encephalopathy is still unknown and largely debated, because of extremely varied clinical presentation, possibly referable to different aetiologic and pathophysiologic mechanisms, as confirmed by the two clinical cases we report in this paper. Autoimmune aetiology is, however, very likely in view of the well established favourable response to corticosteroid administration. Both vasculitis and autoimmunity directed against common brainthyroid antigens represent the most probable aetiologic pathways. Clinical manifestations include consciousness changes, neurologic diffuse or focal signs, headache, and altered cognitive function. Although unspecific, cerebral oedema has also been described. Cerebrospinal fluid examination often discloses an inflammatory process, with a mild increase in protein content and occasionally in lymphocyte count. In this review, clinical criteria for the diagnosis of defined, probable, or possible encephalopathy associated with autoimmune thyroid disease are suggested. Corticosteroid therapy currently allows us to obtain rapid remission of disease symptoms, but adverse outcomes as well as spontaneous remissions have also been reported.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15-23
Number of pages9
JournalInternal and Emergency Medicine
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2006


  • Autoimmune thyroiditis
  • Autoimmunity
  • Corticosteroids
  • Hashimoto's thyroiditis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine
  • Internal Medicine


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