What is hyperthyroidism?

Hyperthyroidism, also known as overactive thyroid, is a medical condition in which the thyroid gland in your body produces more thyroid hormones than what is required by your body. The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland located in front of your neck just below the voice box (larynx). It secretes hormones that help regulate your body’s metabolism such as heart rate, breathing, body temperature, weight, nervous system, blood pressure, and several other body functions. Any abnormality of this gland can cause many physiological and psychological problems in the body.

What happens if hyperthyroidism is left untreated?

If hyperthyroidism is left untreated, it can cause significant problems with the muscles, bones, heart, fertility, puberty, menstrual cycle, and growth and development. At the time of pregnancy, untreated hyperthyroidism can cause serious health issues for the baby and the mother.

Causes of hyperthyroidism

Some of the common causes of hyperthyroidism include:

  • Grave’s disease : an autoimmune condition in which the body’s immune system attacks the thyroid and triggers excessive secretion of thyroid hormone.
  • Thyroiditis : inflammation of the thyroid that triggers seepage of stored thyroid hormone from the thyroid gland.
  • Thyroid nodules : these are common and usually benign lumps in your thyroid that can become overactive and secrete excessive thyroid hormone.
  • Taking in too much iodine from foods or supplements.
  • Taking in too much synthetic thyroid hormone medication.

Symptoms of hyperthyroidism

Some of the common symptoms of hyperthyroidism include:

  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Mood swings
  • Hair loss
  • Nervousness, crankiness, or anxiety
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Sensitivity to heat
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Frequent bowel movements
  • Goitre (swollen thyroid)
  • Irregularity in menstrual cycle
  • Shaky hands and fingers
  • Skin dryness

Risk factors for developing hyperthyroidism

Both men and women can develop hyperthyroidism; however, women are nearly 10 times more likely to develop the condition than men. You are more prone to hyperthyroidism if you:

  • Are older than 60 years of age, particularly if you are a female
  • Have family history of thyroid disease.

Diagnosis of hyperthyroidism

Hyperthyroidism can be diagnosed by reviewing your medical history and by performing a thorough physical examination. To confirm the diagnosis, your doctor may order the following tests:

  • Thyroid panel: A blood test to measure the level of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) and thyroid hormones. High levels of thyroid hormone (thyroxine) and low levels of TSH indicate an overactive thyroid.
  • Thyroid scan: A lab technician introduces a tiny quantity of radioactive iodine into your bloodstream with a syringe and a special camera captures images of the thyroid gland to view nodules or other indications of problems.
  • Ultrasound: A lab technician uses a device known as a transducer to gently move over your neck. The device utilises sound waves to produce pictures of your thyroid to look for any abnormalities in the gland.

Treatment for hyperthyroidism

The method of treatment for hyperthyroidism depends upon the patient’s age and overall health condition, type and severity of the hyperthyroidism. These treatments include:

  • Anti-thyroid medications: Anti-thyroid medications such as methimazole and propylithiouracil are employed for controlling the symptoms of hyperthyroidism. These medications work by gradually reducing the symptoms by preventing the production of excess thyroid hormones by your thyroid gland.
  • Beta-blockers: Even though these medications do not affect your thyroid levels, they are still employed as they help in easing hyperthyroidism symptoms such as hand tremors, anxiety, and irregular heartbeat.
  • Radioactive iodine: In this method, a tiny amount of radioactive iodine is taken by mouth which is absorbed by the thyroid gland. The radioactive iodine causes the gland to shrink and effectively eliminates the cells that secrete thyroid hormone (thyroxine). You may eventually need to take thyroid supplements or medication to prevent thyroid deficiency or hypothyroidism.
  • Surgery: If medications and other methods do not produce desirable results, then surgery is employed as the last option. Your doctor may perform a surgery called thyroidectomy to remove a part or all your thyroid to prevent excess production of thyroid hormone. You may have to use hormone supplements daily to prevent hypothyroidism post thyroidectomy.