Hyperthyroidism is a condition where excessive amounts of thyroid hormones are secreted by an overactive thyroid gland and released into the blood stream. The excess hormone can in turn lead to rapid metabolism and excessive weight loss, irregularity in heart functions and that of other vital organs, nervousness etc.
Sometimes the symptoms of the condition can remain silent for too long and one might not even know about the prognosis till late. Also the symptoms of hyperthyroidism can mimic those of other health conditions. There is a possibility that one gets to know about the condition while getting treated for some other health crisis symptomatically. Read about the difference between Hyperthyroidism and Hypothyroidism.
Normally the thyroid gland is programmed to release the right amount of T3 and T4 hormones. But at times there can be an excess of T4 in the blood stream leading to a condition like hyperthyroidism. The most probable causes that can trigger this condition are:
- Graves’s disease
- Nodules on the thyroid gland
- Other health conditions
Here is detailed information on causes of hyperthyroidism.
The following are the risk factors that can give rise to hyperthyroidism:
- Being a female. Though health problems are never gender biased but with this condition it’s a general observation that women suffer from thyroid problems more than men.
- Genetic predisposition. If Grave’s disease or other thyroid troubles run in the family then there are more chances that one suffers from a condition like hyperthyroidism.
- Other health conditions. People suffering from other auto immune diseases or type 1 diabetes are at a risk of developing the condition more.
- Smoking. Smokers have an increased risk of developing Grave’s disease and also suffering from Grave’s opthalmopathy.
The symptoms of hyperthyroidism can be varied, some of them include:
- Unexplained weight loss, even though there isn’t a significant change in appetite or the amount of food intake
- Irregular heartbeat
- Increase in appetite. This along with weight loss serves to be like an alarm for hyperthyroidism
- Nervousness, anxiety and irritability
- Fine tremors, especially seen in the fingers and hands
- Excessive sweating
- Changes in menstrual patterns in women
- Increased sensitivity to heat
- Frequent bowel movements
- Excessive fatigue with muscle weakness
- Skin thinning and brittle hair
- For people who suffer from hyperthyroidism due to Grave’s disease may also have goiter, swelling of the thyroid gland
- Grave’s disease can also lead to protruding eye balls, red or swollen eyes, excessive tears in the eyes resulting in a condition called Grave’s opthalmopathy
Read about tips to deal with hyperthyroidism during pregnancy.
Hyperthyroidism is diagnosed in the following ways:
Physical examination: Your doctor might slightly press your thyroid gland to check for any inflammation or any such anomaly. Here's what to expect during a thyroid function test.
Blood test: A blood test is usually done to check for the levels of thyroxine or T4 hormone and that of the TSH in the blood stream. High levels of T4 and low levels of TSH in the blood usually indicate hyperthyroidism.
Radioactive iodine test: Oral dose of radioactive iodine is given which gets collected on the gland. An assessment of the thyroid gland function is done either two, six or 24 hours later to determine how much iodine has been absorbed by the gland. A high intake of radioiodine indicates your thyroid gland is producing too much thyroxine resulting in the condition.
Thyroid scan: This is usually done if the doctor suspects any structural changes in the gland. An ultrasound or thyroid scan can detect the presence of cysts, their nature and also the extent of thyroid enlargement that has taken place along with hyperthyroidism.
Here's how to read your medical test report: Thyroid function tests.
The treatment options are as follows:
Radioactive iodine therapy: Oral radioactive iodine is given in small doses that cause the gland to shrink and symptoms to subside. This mode of treatment is generally safe.
Anti-thyroid medications: These oral medications gradually reduce the symptoms of hyperthyroidism by preventing the thyroid gland from producing excess amounts of hormones. It takes around six to 12 weeks for the symptoms to come under control. But the drugs have certain side effects, like it can cause liver damage, skin rashes, hives, fever or joint pain. Read what happens if you miss a dose of your thyroid medication?
Beta blockers: These medications are offered along with other prescribed drugs to address the issues of heart that arise due to hyperthyroidism.
Radioactive ablation: This form of treatment is usually offered if oral medication turns to be ineffective for the treatment. The iodine used in the therapy destroys the part of the gland that has gone on an overdrive to bring the levels of thyroid hormone to normalcy.
Surgery: Though very rarely done, but a surgery might be inevitable if the symptoms of the condition cannot be controlled with the above mentioned treatment options.
Also read about sample meal plan for hyperthyroidism.
Untreated hyperthyroidism can lead to a number of complications like:
Irregular heart function: One of the serious complications of hyperthyroidism involves the heart, leading to a rapid heart rate, a heart rhythm disorder called atrial fibrillation or congestive heart failure. These complications generally are reversible with appropriate treatment given at the right time.
Osteoporosis: Untreated hyperthyroidism can also lead to weak, brittle bones. Too much thyroid hormone interferes with the body’s ability to incorporate calcium into the bones leading to osteoporosis.
Graves’ ophthalmopathy: Severe eye problems along with hyperthyroidism can lead to vision loss.
Skin problems: In rare cases, people with Graves’ disease develop Graves’ dermopathy, which affects the skin, causing redness and swelling, often on the shins and feet.
Thyrotoxic crisis: This is an emergency situation in which ones symptoms gets intensified leading to a fever, a rapid pulse rate and even delirium needing immediate medical intervention. Also read about what is thyroid storm and its symptoms?
There are certain lifestyle changes that are needed to be incorporated to deal with hyperthyroidism:
Diet changes: If you have lost a lot of weight due to the condition make sure you incorporate enough proteins and calcium in your diet to make up for the loss. Remember hyperthyroidism can erode bone density too. Read types of food to beat hyperthyroidism.
Protect your eyes: If you have been detected with Grave’s disease, apart from regular medication make sure to take good care of your eyes too. Apply lubricating eye drops, were sunglasses to protect from UV rays, use cold compress when needed and go for regular eye check-ups to keep track of the health of your orbs.
Be regular with exercises: Regular exercises can help up cardiovascular health, improve muscle tone and keep one in the pink of health despite the hormonal imbalances. Here are yoga asanas for people with thyroid problems.
The content has been verified by Dr Avinash Phadke, President Technology & Mentor (Clinical Pathology), SRL Diagnostics.