Hyperthyroidism is a medical condition that occurs when the thyroid gland becomes overactive, leading to excessive production of thyroid hormones. These hormones, namely thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3), play a crucial role in regulating metabolism. When they are produced in excessive amounts, it can lead to a myriad of symptoms and health issues. Hyperthyroidism can increase your metabolism causing symptoms like rapid heartbeat, weight loss, increased appetite, and anxiety. An accurate and timely diagnosis in the early stages in crucial to manage the disease preventing further complications.
What is Hyperthyroidism, an Overview
Before we dive into the intricacies of hyperthyroidism, it’s essential to understand the role of the thyroid gland in the human body. The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped organ located in the front of the neck. It is responsible for producing and releasing thyroid hormones, thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3), which control various bodily functions, including metabolism, heart rate, body temperature, and more. The production of thyroid hormones is tightly regulated by the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland, ensuring that the body functions properly.
A healthy thyroid ensures a balance in bodily functions such as regulating temperature, controlling heart rate, and metabolism. Unfortunately, in some cases, the thyroid stops functioning by making too fewer thyroid hormones as in hypothyroidism or gets overactive producing too much which causes hyperthyroidism. Unchecked hyperthyroidism can eventually impact the entire body.
Hyperthyroidism is primarily caused by an overproduction of thyroid hormones. There are several reasons why the thyroid gland may become overactive:
Graves’ Disease: This is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism, accounting for about 70-80% of cases. Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system mistakenly produces antibodies that stimulate the thyroid gland, leading to excessive hormone production. Graves’ disease is a hereditary condition more common in females than in males.
Thyroiditis: An inflammation of the thyroid gland, often due to viral infections, following a pregnancy (postpartum thyroiditis), medications, injury or trauma to the thyroid gland and other causes. Subacute thyroiditis can also occur after a viral infection. Thyroiditis causes the thyroid hormones inside the thyroid gland to leak out into the blood stream, increasing thyroid hormones in the body. Thyroiditis is temporary can go way on its own within a few weeks or months.
Toxic Multinodular Goiter (TMG): Sometimes, the thyroid gland develops multiple nodules or lumps that produce thyroid hormones autonomously, without responding to the body’s usual regulatory mechanisms. Called goiters, Overactive nodules can be seen more often in areas where there is less iodine in the diet.
Excessive Iodine Intake: Consuming too much iodine through diet, medication, or contrast dyes can lead to an overactive thyroid. Your thyroid gland uses iodine to create thyroid hormones, thus consuming excess iodine or taking supplements without a doctor’s advice can cause problems of hyperthyroidism. There are also certain medications that can cause hyperthyroidism.
Tumors: Rarely, tumors of the pituitary gland or the thyroid itself can lead to increased thyroid hormone production.
The symptoms of hyperthyroidism can vary from person to person, and some individuals may experience only a few of them. Common symptoms include:
- Unexplained Weight Loss
- Nervousness and Anxiety
- Increased Heart Rate
- Heat Sensitivity and sweating
- Tremor in the hands or fingers
- Muscle Weakness and fatigue or thyrotoxic myopathy
- Diarrhea and frequent bowel movements
- Changes in Menstrual Cycle
- Goiter, a swelling or enlargement in the neck.
- Insomnia and difficulty sleeping.
- Hair loss and change in hair texture (brittle)
- Thin, warm, and moist skin.
- Bulging of the eyes (seen with Graves’ disease).
To diagnose hyperthyroidism, a healthcare provider will perform a series of tests and evaluations, including:
Physical Examination: The doctor will examine the patient for physical signs of hyperthyroidism, such as an enlarged thyroid gland (goiter) and tremors, skin issues and the symptoms commonly associated with hyperthyroidism.
Blood Tests: Blood tests, including the measurement of thyroid hormones (T4 and T3) and thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), help determine the levels of these hormones in the bloodstream. In hyperthyroidism, levels of TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) will be lower than normal while thyroid hormones T3 and T4 will show higher than normal. Sometimes there is also a condition called subclinical hyperthyroidism, a milder form of hyperthyroidism where the TSH is low but the T4 and T3 are normal.
Thyroid antibody tests: Thyroid antibody tests are used to check for different thyroid antibodies that affect your thyroid in different ways. These antibodies include:
- Thyroid peroxidase antibodies (TPOAb). High levels indicate Hashimoto’s disease-causing hypothyroidism.
- Thyroglobulin antibodies (TgAb). High levels indicate a sign of Hashimoto’s disease.
- Thyrotropin receptor antibodies (TRAb). These antibodies can be a sign of Graves’ disease.
Radioactive Iodine Uptake Test: This test measures how much iodine the thyroid gland absorbs, and helps prove that your thyroid may be making too much T4 identifying the underlying cause of hyperthyroidism.
Thyroid Ultrasound: An ultrasound of the thyroid can reveal any structural abnormalities, such as nodules or inflammation. Order imaging tests like thyroid ultrasound or nuclear medicine scans can help a doctor figure out why your thyroid is making too much thyroid hormone.
Thyroid Scintigraphy: This test can help identify the cause of hyperthyroidism by showing the distribution of radioactivity in the thyroid gland.
The treatment for hyperthyroidism aims to restore normal thyroid hormone levels, alleviate symptoms, and address the underlying cause. The choice of treatment depends on the severity of the condition, the patient’s age, and their overall health. Here are the primary treatment options:
- Antithyroid Drugs: Medications like methimazole and propylthiouracil (PTU) can help block the production of thyroid hormones. These are often used in cases of mild to moderate hyperthyroidism.
- Beta-Blockers: Drugs like propranolol do not change the level of hormones in your blood, but can help manage symptoms like rapid heart rate and tremors.
- Radioactive Iodine (RAI) Therapy: This is a common treatment for Graves’ disease where radioactive iodine is taken orally and is absorbed by the overactive thyroid tissue, gradually reducing hormone production. The RAI damages thyroid cells shrinking the thyroid to reduce the levels of thyroid hormone. In most cases, depending on the treatment, it could lead to permanent destruction of the thyroid resulting in hypothyroidism. However, hypothyroidism is easily treated with lifelong daily thyroid hormone supplement.
- Thyroid Surgery (Thyroidectomy): In cases of severe or unresponsive hyperthyroidism, or if RAI therapy is not suitable, the removal of part or all of the thyroid gland may be necessary. Patients who undergo a thyroidectomy will need lifelong thyroid hormone replacement therapy.
- Alternative Therapies: Some individuals explore alternative treatments, such as acupuncture, herbal remedies, or dietary changes. While these may offer symptom relief, they are not considered primary treatments for hyperthyroidism.
- Managing Complications: If hyperthyroidism has led to serious complications, such as heart issues, these complications will need to be addressed alongside the primary treatment.
What happens if hyperthyroidism is left untreated?
If left untreated, hyperthyroidism can create even worse health issues some of which are:
Managing hyperthyroidism through lifestyle changes can be a valuable addition to medical treatment. However, it’s important to note that lifestyle changes alone may not be sufficient to control hyperthyroidism, especially in more severe cases. Always consult with a healthcare professional for a comprehensive treatment plan. Here are some lifestyle strategies to help manage hyperthyroidism:
- Eating a balanced thyroid friendly diet
- Avoid smoking and caffeine
- Stress management
- Get adequate sleep
- Limit alcohol
- Take supplements as prescribed by your doctor
- Avoid iodine rich food
Hyperthyroidism is a condition that can significantly impact an individual’s overall health and well-being due to the overproduction of thyroid hormones. Recognizing the symptoms and seeking prompt medical attention is crucial for effective diagnosis and treatment. At ensocure integrated medicine, you can consult our nutritionists for a thyroid friendly diet that will help you know what you should eat and shouldn’t. With appropriate treatment, individuals with hyperthyroidism can achieve a better quality of life and symptom relief.
If you suspect you have hyperthyroidism or are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned, it is essential to consult with a healthcare professional. They can help determine the underlying cause of your hyperthyroidism and guide you towards the most appropriate treatment for your specific situation, ultimately restoring hormonal balance and improving your overall health.