The Overactive Thyroid (Hyperthyroidism): All You Need to Know

“Mrs. Benjamin has just been admitted to the hospital,” the nurse said, speaking to Mr. Benjamin. Mrs. Benjamin had developed an irregularly, fast heartbeat and with shakiness that the doctors say were tied to her thyroid gland overworking itself.

What is hyperthyroidism?

Hyperthyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid gland makes too much thyroid hormones, causing an array of symptoms. The thyroid gland is an organ located just below the Adam’s apple, an area of throat that protrudes slightly outward in the neck. The gland functions to produce thyroid hormones , which are essential for regulating the functions of nearly all parts of the body. The functions of the thyroid hormones include: 

  • Regulate the heart rate
  • Involved in regulating body temperature
  • Regulate the rate of food breakdown and digestion in the body, which is broadly referred to as "metabolism”
  • Control muscle function
  • Tissue and cell repair

If these hormones are too abundant much in the body, they may cause these parts of the body to function out of order. 

Symptoms of hyperthyroidism

Symptoms one may will experience with hyperthyroidism include: 

  • Losing weight without trying
  • Fast and irregular heartbeat
  • Increased hunger
  • Anxiety and shakiness
  • Sweating
  • Changes to the menstrual cycle
  • Increased sensitivity to heat
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle weakness
  • Sleep problems

Causes of Hyperthyroidism

Why would the thyroid gland suddenly begin to release hormones out of order and more than the normal levels? There are several reasons for this, and common conditions that cause this include: 

  • Graves’ Disease: Graves’ disease is an autoimmune condition in which the body’s immune cells attack the thyroid gland, prompting the gland to secrete too much thyroid hormones. A person with a family history of the disease has have a higher than average risk of developing it.
  • Thyroid nodules: Small growths in the thyroid gland may have the potential to release more  amounts of thyroid hormones than the rest of the gland. These growths, which are often non-cancerous, may cause the gland to look bigger than normal. 
  • Inflammation: In inflammation of the thyroid gland, called thyroiditis, may cause excessive production of thyroid hormones from the gland. This inflammation is often due to an autoimmune attack on the gland, and may occur in patients who have other autoimmune conditions already. 

Complications of Hyperthyroidism

What happens if an overactive thyroid gland is not treated? Thyroid hormones could stimulate overactivity of several organs and tissues, causing damage and, in turn, health problems. Some of these complications include: 

  • Arrhythmias, a condition in which the heart beats dangerously fast
  • Visual disturbances, which include bulging eyes, gritty sensation, double vision, and painful red eyes
  • Weak bones, as excessive amounts of the thyroid hormones cause the bones to wear off and lose minerals faster than they can accumulate them. 
  • In severe cases, excessive thyroid hormones may cause a condition called thyroid storm toxic crisis, which manifests with fever, nausea, diarrhoea, confusion, and a fast heartbeat.

Treatment of Hyperthyroidism

The aims of treatment for hyperthyroidism are to bring back the thyroid hormone levels back to normal and improve symptoms caused by the high thyroid levels. Achieving this requires different combinations of the following treatments: 

  • Anti-thyroid medicines: These medications slow down the thyroid’s ability to produce more thyroid hormones, thus, helping to slowly ease symptoms. Treatment with these medicines typically last up to a year, after which the dose is slowly reduced or stopped if the symptoms go away and once the thyroid hormone levels are back to normal.
  • Beta-blockers: These medicines , an example of which is Propranolol, works by reducing some of the symptoms of hyperthyroidism, such as fast heart rate and tremors. 
  • Radioiodine therapy: In some cases, The thyroid gland may be treated with radioactive iodine, which may help shrink the organ and destroy areas of the gland that produce the hormone excessively. A risk to this treatment is that it could make the thyroid too weak to produce enough thyroid hormones after treatment, and then, you may require synthetic thyroid hormones. 
  • Thyroid Removal: Treatment of hyperthyroidism may sometimes require partial or complete removal of the thyroid gland sometimes. It may be a treatment of choice for people who cannot take anti-thyroid medicine or who are pregnant. Surgery does come with some risks, including damage to the vocal cords and neck tissues. 

Hyperthyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid gland produces too much thyroid hormone, causing serious symptoms, that which may worsen slowly become dangerous if left untreated. If you have any symptoms suggestive of hyperthyroidism, including unexplained weight loss, a fast heart rate, tremors, sweatiness, and menstrual disturbances, speak to your doctor for a thorough evaluation as soon as possible. 

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