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Hyperthyroidism

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Hyperthyroidism

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Hyperthyroidism is when the thyroid gland becomes overactive and produces too much of thyroxine hormone. Read the article to learn more.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Swaraj Waddankeri

Published At June 24, 2019
Reviewed AtAugust 22, 2023

What Is Hyperthyroidism?

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland, which is present in your neck. This gland releases T3 (Triiodothyronine) and T4 (Tetraiodothyronine), which are hormones that regulate the metabolism in the body.

When the thyroid gland secretes too much of T3, T4, or both, it is called hyperthyroidism or overactive thyroid. Overproduction of these hormones affects many functions of the body. This condition can result from various causes and can lead to many symptoms. It affects women more commonly than men and is commonly seen in people who are 60 years or older.

What Are the Causes of Hyperthyroidism?

Many factors cause the thyroid gland to become overactive. Some of the common causes are:

  • Graves’ Disease - It is an autoimmune condition and is responsible for more than 70 % of hyperthyroidism cases. It is genetic and causes the eyes to protrude. Patients usually suffer from discomfort in the eyes and double vision.

  • Nodular Thyroid Disease - This condition causes noncancerous lumps to develop in the thyroid gland. They make the thyroid gland overactive.

  • Thyroiditis - Viral infection of the thyroid that results in inflammation is called thyroiditis.

  • Increased Iodine Intake - The thyroid gland uses the iodine from the blood to produce thyroid hormones. Thus, increased intake of iodine makes the thyroid gland absorb too much iodine, which results in overproduction of thyroid hormones.

  • Follicular Thyroid Cancer - The cancer cells start producing thyroid hormones in addition to the healthy cells.

  • Medications - Medicines that contain high amounts of iodine can result in hyperthyroidism. Examples are Amiodarone, Lithium, etc.

  • Taking Too Much Thyroid Hormone Medicine - If an individual is under treatment for hypothyroidism, it is crucial to check the hormone levels every year, as taking too much thyroid hormone medicine might result in hyperthyroidism.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Hyperthyroidism?

Mild hyperthyroidism usually does not cause any symptoms and goes unnoticed. The symptoms seen are different for different people. The most common symptoms include:

The thyroid gland enlarges, which causes swelling in the neck (goiter).

  • Irritability.

  • Mood swings.

  • Restlessness.

  • Lack of concentration.

  • Tiredness.

  • Difficulty sleeping.

  • Breathing problems.

  • Intolerance to heat.

  • Excessive sweating.

  • Frequent bowel movement.

  • Urticaria.

  • Heart palpitations.

  • Fine and brittle hair.

  • Menstrual periods are lighter or absent.

  • Low libido.

  • Infertility.

  • Hair loss occurs in patches (alopecia).

  • Sudden weight loss.

  • Tremors in palms and hands.

  • Nails become loose.

  • Thinning of the skin.

It also causes increased thirst and tiredness for diabetic patients, and heart failure and arrhythmias in patients with heart problems.

What Are the Risk Factors for Hyperthyroidism?

Some of the factors that increase the risk of hyperthyroidism are:

  • Females.

  • Family history of the disease.

  • Presence of any chronic illness like diabetes (type 1), vitamin B12 deficiency, and primary adrenal insufficiency.

What Are the Complications Associated with Hyperthyroidism?

This condition can result in a lot of complications like:

  • Graves’ Ophthalmopathy - The eyes of people with hyperthyroidism becomes protruded, swollen, red, sensitive to light, and develop double vision. It can also result in blindness if left untreated.

  • Osteoporosis - As high levels of thyroid hormones interfere with the absorption of calcium into the bones, it results in weak and brittle bones.

  • Atrial Fibrillation - Hyperthyroidism can also lead to atrial fibrillation, where the heart beats rapidly, which increases the risk of a stroke and congestive cardiac failure.

  • Graves’ Dermopathy - The skin becomes red and swollen. It usually affects the skin of the shins and feet.

  • Thyrotoxicosis Crisis or Thyroid Storm - It is a medical emergency, which causes high fever, rapid heartbeat, jaundice, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, and delirium.

How Is Hyperthyroidism Diagnosed?

Your doctor might suspect hyperthyroidism if you have some of the signs and symptoms as mentioned above. He or she will ask you to swallow and will examine the thyroid gland for any swelling, bumpiness, or tenderness.

To confirm the diagnosis, you have to get the following blood tests done:

  1. T3 and T4 - If your blood reports show high levels of thyroxine (T3 and T4), it indicates hyperthyroidism.

  2. Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) - TSH is the hormone secreted from the pituitary gland, which signals the thyroid gland to release thyroxine. Low or absence of TSH indicates that your thyroid gland is overactive.

  3. Cholesterol and Triglycerides - Low levels of triglycerides and cholesterol indicate an elevated metabolic rate.

If one has hyperthyroidism, the doctor will suggest to take the following tests to know the cause:

  1. Thyroid ultrasound - An ultrasound is done to measure the size of the gland, and to see the presence of any mass or cysts.

  2. Radioiodine uptake test and thyroid scan - Here, the amount of iodine absorbed by the thyroid gland is seen, after administering an oral dose of radioactive iodine. If the gland absorbs too much iodine, it indicates overproduction of thyroxine.

  3. CT or MRI scans - It is used to diagnose a tumor of the pituitary gland, which might also cause this condition.

Is Hyperthyroidism Curable?

The following treatment options help manage symptoms and reduce the production of thyroid hormones.

  1. Beta-blockers - They help ease symptoms like tremors, rapid heartbeat, and heart palpitations. It is used until the hormone levels come back to normal.

  2. Antithyroid medicines - Drugs like Methimazole and Propylthiouracil (PTU) stop the thyroid gland from producing too much T3 and T4. It usually takes about a year or more for the hormones to come back to normal.

  3. Radioactive iodine - Radioactive iodine which when taken orally gets absorbed by the gland, which causes the gland to shrink.

  4. Thyroidectomy - Here, the thyroid gland is partially or completely removed. The disadvantage is, one has to take Levothyroxine for the rest of their life to supply sufficient amounts of thyroid hormones to the body.

Can Diet Improve Hyperthyroidism Symptoms?

Take supplements or food rich in vitamin D and calcium, as you are susceptible to develop osteoporosis. Reduce the intake of iodine, as it can worsen your symptoms. Even some multivitamins and cough syrup contain a lot of iodine.

What Are the Precautions to Be Taken to Avoid Complications of Hyperthyroidism?

To prevent Graves’ ophthalmopathy and dermopathy, some preventive measures that you can apply are:

  • Avoid smoking.

  • Prevent your eyes from drying out by using lubricative gel or drops.

  • Wear sunglasses when you go out in the sun.

  • Use pillows to keep your head elevated, as this will reduce swelling and relieve pressure on your eyes.

  • For redness of the skin, try using creams containing Hydrocortisone.

Conclusion

Hyperthyroidism, also referred to as an overactive thyroid, is more prevalent among females. This condition arises from a variety of factors, with the predominant cause being Graves’ disease. Individuals affected with hyperthyroidism have a range of treatment options at their disposal to effectively address the condition and alleviate its symptoms. These options encompass a spectrum of medications, and complementing these with specific dietary adjustments might also prove beneficial.

Frequently Asked Questions

1.

Is Hyperthyroidism a Very Severe Condition?

Hyperthyroidism can be a severe condition if it is left untreated. The condition can cause various health complications such as stroke, heart failure, irregular heartbeats, double vision, eye pain, etc. However, most people can manage hyperthyroidism well with timely diagnosis and proper treatment.

2.

What Are the Symptoms Presented By a Person With Hyperthyroidism?

Hyperthyroidism makes a person feel irritated and nervous. As a result, a person has anxiety issues and cannot sleep properly due to hyperactivity of the thyroid gland. Moreover, hyperthyroidism affects the behavior and mood of a person, thus, making them angry, restless, and tired.

3.

What Are the Four Major Symptoms of Hyperthyroidism?

The four primary symptoms of hyperthyroidism are:'
- Intolerance to heat.
- Restlessness.
- Heart palpitations, tremors, and anxiety.
- Lack of concentration.

4.

Does Stress Lead to Hyperthyroidism?

Stress does not cause hyperthyroidism; however, it can make the condition even worse if a person is already suffering from this hyperthyroidism. In addition, some thyroid conditions, such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Grave’s disease, can get badly affected if a person suffers from chronic stress.

5.

Can Hyperthyroidism Cause Cancer?

Hyperthyroidism does not cause cancer and is not treated as the primary symptom or cause of thyroid-related cancers. However, few studies have suggested that people with thyroid cancer may also have a previous history or underlying condition of hyperthyroidism.

6.

Can Hyperthyroidism Cause the Sudden Death of a Person?

Sudden death due to hyperthyroidism is rare, but high levels of thyroid hormone secretion due to thyroid dysfunction can cause sudden cardiac deaths. However, little information shows a strong association between hyperthyroidism and sudden cardiac deaths.

7.

Does Hyperthyroidism Get Resolved?

Hyperthyroidism can disappear if the reduced thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) returns to normal within a few months without any treatment. However, the condition is treatable, and most causes can be resolved with proper management.

8.

Can Hyperthyroidism Be Treated?

Hyperthyroidism can be cured by treating symptoms and reducing the oversecretion of thyroid hormone. In addition, the condition can be managed with antithyroid medicines such as Propylthiouracil and Methimazole to control T3 and T4 secretion. Beta-blockers are also given to manage cardiac symptoms, and radioactive iodine is used to shrink the thyroid gland.

9.

Does Hyperthyroidism Make a Person Angry?

Hyperthyroidism causes behavioral changes in a person and thus affects the person’s mood. For example, the condition is often associated with irritability, restlessness, anxiety, insomnia, and fatigue and can make a person angry. Thus overactive thyroid affects mood, causing anger and mood swings.

10.

Does Hyperthyroidism Affect Our Thinking?

Hyperthyroidism can affect a person's brain functioning and thus causes difficulty in thinking. In addition, the condition is often associated with neuropsychiatric issues, such as brain fog, difficulty concentrating, memory loss, nervousness, anxiety, depression, and irritability.

11.

Is Hyperthyroidism Considered a Terminal Illness?

The hyperthyroidism caused by Grave’s disease can be fatal, leading to terminal illness. In addition, the condition is potentially serious if not diagnosed and treated timely and can cause severe life-threatening medical conditions. However, since treatment options are available to manage Grave’s disease, terminal illness can be prevented in such cases.

12.

What Happens Hyperthyroidism Is Left Untreated?

Not treating hyperthyroidism can cause various health complications related to muscles, bones, heart, fertility, and menstrual cycle. In addition, high thyroid hormone levels in the body inhibit calcium entry into the bones. Hyperthyroidism treatment is, therefore, essential to prevent heart problems and other health complications.

13.

What Virus Causes Hyperthyroidism?

Hyperthyroidism can be caused by certain viruses such as influenza, mumps, and various respiratory viruses that can affect the thyroid gland and cause inflammation. This can further lead to over secretion of thyroid hormone in the blood and cause hyperthyroidism in a person.
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Dr. Swaraj Waddankeri

Endocrinology

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