Epstein Barr Virus and Thyroid Health: Everything You Need To Know
Thyroid Health. The thyroid gland plays an essential role in your overall health and well-being, and keeping it healthy and thriving should be one of the most important health goals. Inflammation of the thyroid can cause a plethora of issues and complications in all other areas of your body, from the immune system to metabolic health, with a variety of different causes.
Viral infections are only one of the potential causes of thyroid inflammation, and Epstein-Barr Virus, also known as the human herpesvirus, is one of the most common infections people deal with. Unfortunately, it can create some serious issues with your thyroid health, causing mononucleosis.
What is the Epstein-Barr Virus
Often referred to as EBV or human herpesvirus 4, Epstein-Barr Virus is one of the most common human viruses that usually causes infectious mononucleosis, a serious and debilitating illness that can last for months and have long-lasting consequences.
EBV is more common in children and teenagers than adults, but since it’s extremely contagious, it’s not rare in those 30+. Once infected, it’s impossible to completely get rid of EBV. Even when the symptoms cease, this virus becomes inactive in the body, with the potential to reactivate later in life. That’s why someone might get mono more than once.
Even though people usually think of mono as an illness you get through intimate and sexual contact, it can just as easily be transmitted through a drinking glass in a coffee shop as EBV remains alive on an object as long as it’s moist.
Symptoms of EBV
Some of the most common symptoms of EBV include:
- an enlarged liver and spleen
- Painful sensations around the liver and spleen (due to enlargement and inflammation)
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck and sometimes in the underarms and groin
- Inexplicable fatigue
- Inflamed and sore throat
- Body aches
- Loss of appetite
Not everyone will have all the symptoms and even their intensity differs from person to person, which can influence the duration of the illness itself. Diagnosing EBV can be quite challenging as the symptoms aren’t specific to just this virus. That’s why it’s necessary to perform a blood test that can detect antibodies and confirm you’re infected with EBV.
Treatment for EBV
Currently, there are no known treatments for this contagious virus. There are also no known vaccines, even though they are being worked on. This leaves prevention solely in the hands of every individual, asking them to be more aware of how they use other people’s personal objects (such as a toothbrush).
The only recommendations doctors usually have for those with EBV include plenty of fluids and rest, combined with pain-relieving medications to relieve spleen and liver pain as well as reduce potential fever.
EBV and Thyroid Health
Now that you know a bit more about Epstein-Barr and its effects on the human body, it’s time to explain how it affects your thyroid and what impacts it might have on its function.
Research shows a clear link between EBV and autoimmune diseases such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Sjögren’s syndrome, celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and autoimmune hepatitis. Additionally, it seems like it’s also been reported in people with autoimmune thyroid disorders. Even though it’s not the sole cause of thyroid issues, studies show it might be one of the greatest contributors.
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Graves’ disease are two known autoimmune conditions that cause severe inflammation of the thyroid. The only difference between the two: Hashimoto’s thyroiditis causes hypothyroidism, an underactive thyroid, and Graves’ disease causes hyperthyroidism, an overactive thyroid.
The exact role of EBV in autoimmune diseases of the thyroid isn’t completely known yet, but it’s currently being studied all over the world. The fact that by preventing getting exposed and infected with this virus might lower your chances of getting an autoimmune condition that might harm your thyroid (and thus overall) health, is extremely important and can put the emphasis on developing a vaccine for EBV sooner than later.
What Does the Science Say?
The current theory on how EBV affects your immune system and contributes to the development of an autoimmune condition is this: EBV-infected immune cells in your body find a way to infiltrate the thyroid gland. In people who are already predisposed to autoimmunity (including autoimmune thyroid disease) due to genetics, iodine or selenium deficiency, high levels of stress, inflammatory foods, pregnancy, certain medications and other conditions, smoking, alcohol, or other known causes, these EBV-infected cells start producing antibodies which can cause the surrounding immune cells to overreact, mistake the thyroid gland for a harmful agent, and attack it.
Now, as you’ve seen, there are plenty of different reasons for the development of an autoimmune disease. A simple viral infection can’t be the sole cause. That’s why in healthy people and those without a predisposition to autoimmunity, there’s a low risk of developing Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or Graves disease.
What about EBV and Thyroid Cancer?
Some experts believe that EBV can even play a serious role in the development of thyroid cancer and that it shouldn’t be neglected. There is no clear evidence behind it and the reports vary drastically in worldwide population, but what is known is that EBV is associated with many tissue malignancies, showcasing its potential.
Whether you strongly believe in the link between EBV and thyroid disorders or not, this viral infection isn’t benign. In most cases, it causes mononucleoisis which can keep you off your feet and off your normal game for months, with long-lasting consequences on both your physical and mental health.
That’s why it’s important to do whatever you can to prevent getting exposed and infected to this virus, as much as it’s possible in your capacity.
First and foremost, if you know someone has EBV, try to stay away from their saliva, blood, or other secretions. This means, no kissing, no intimate relations, and no sharing of personal items like toothbrushes and drinking glasses.
Secondly, always ask for a straw or a to-go cup in cafes and restaurants. Many people get all sorts of herpesviruses from drinking glasses and one of the best way to prevent that from happening is to avoid drinking from the glass directly.
Epstein-Barr virus is just one of many common viruses that roam around our population, threatening to infect anyone whose immune system is even slightly weakened. Unfortunately, it’s known to cause plenty of health complications and potentially play a huge role in autoimmune thyroid conditions. Prevention is key in lowering your risk of infection, but without the vaccine, the only way to protect yourself is to stay aware and vigilant.