Hyperthyroidism, or an overactive thyroid, is a condition where your thyroid gland begins to produce too much thyroxine, the hormone made within the gland. Hyperthyroidism may cause an acceleration of your metabolism in a significant way. This can cause irritability, nervousness, sweating, irregular heartbeat or sudden weight loss. This article provides general information about how to treat hyperthyroidism.
Symptoms of Hyperthyroidism
Hyperthyroidism may mimic other types of health conditions, which makes it difficult to diagnose. It may also cause symptoms and signs that include:
- Rapid heartbeat, also known as tachycardia – it may race at over 100 beats per minute – and pounding of the heart (palpitations) or an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)
- Sudden loss of weight, even when your appetite may increase
- Irritability, anxiety and nervousness
- Tremor – usually seen as a trembling in fingers and hands
- Increased heat sensitivity
- Menstrual pattern changes
- A goiter, or enlarged thyroid gland
- Changes in your bowel patterns, often with more frequent bowel movements
- Difficulty sleeping
- Muscle weakness and fatigue
- Brittle, fine hair
- Thinning of the skin
Older adults may have subtle signs or none at all. Medications that are taken for high blood pressure, known as beta blockers, may mask the signs of hyperthyroidism.
Causes of Hyperthyroidism
There are various conditions that can cause hyperthyroidism. They include thyroiditis, Plummer’s disease, toxic adenoma and Graves’ disease.
Treatments for Hyperthyroidism
There are several different options available to you if your thyroid produces too much thyroxine. They include radioactive iodine and anti-thyroid medications that will slow your thyroid from producing as much thyroxine. In some cases, hyperthyroid treatment will involve removing part or all of your thyroid gland. These all have been proven to be useful in treating hyperthyroidism. The best choice for you will depend on your physical condition, age and the severity of your symptoms.
Anti thyroid medication
Hyperthyroidism can become serious if left untreated and prognosis is usually very good for patients once receiving treatment. Anti-thyroid medications gradually will reduce your hyperthyroidism. They prevent the thyroid gland from its excess production of hormones. Symptoms will usually show improvement in six weeks to three months, but the treatments will usually continue for a year or longer. The Mayo Clinic says that these medications may clear up your problem permanently, but sometimes people experience relapses.
Adverse reactions to antithyroid medications are uncommon and affect only 1-3% of patients. The side effects include rash, itching, abnormal hair loss, and fever. Less common side effects include nausea, swelling, heartburn, muscle and joint aches, numbness, and headache.
In very rare instances, antithyroid drugs can cause liver damage. In the most severe of cases, this can result in death. Regular follow-up visits with your doctor will greatly reduce the risk of this severe complication.
Another extremely rare, but serious, complication of antithyroid medications is known as agranulocytosis. Granulocytes are blood cells protect the body from bacteria. Without granulocytes, the body is defenseless against bacteria and infection. If you notice any infection, even if it’s as ordinary as a sore throat, seek immediate medical treatment. Again, agranulocytosis is an extremely rare complication of antithyroid medications, but it’s important to understand all the risks. You should have regular follow-up with your doctor while you are on these medications.
Beta blockers are often used in the treatment of high blood pressure. They do not reduce the hormone levels in your thyroid, but they do reduce rapid heartbeat and help in preventing palpitations and manage symptoms. These medications can help you to feel more yourself until your thyroid levels become closer to normal. There are side effects, which may include dizziness, diarrhea, constipation, upset stomach, headache or fatigue.
Radioactive iodine is taken by mouth and absorbed by the thyroid gland. It will cause the thyroid to shrink and your symptoms to subside. This generally occurs within a period of three to six months. You may eventually have to take medication to replace the thyroxine that your thyroid is no longer producing.
A surgery known as a thyroidectomy is used if you cannot tolerate anti-thyroid drugs and if you do not wish to use iodine therapy. During a thyroidectomy, your surgeon will remove most of the thyroid gland. Risks include possible damage to your parathyroid glands or your vocal cords. The parathyroid glands help in controlling calcium blood levels. Additionally, you will need thyroid hormone replacement treatment for the rest of your life. Thyroid hormone medication will supply your body with normal thyroid hormone amounts. If your parathyroid glands are non functional after thyroidectomy for hyperthyroidism, you will also need medication that will keep the calcium levels in your blood normal.
If you have questions about how to treat hyperthyroidism, contact your local doctor, who will arrange for you to see a thyroid surgeon.