HYPERTHYROIDISM: Increased Activity of the Thyroid Gland

Although most people think that the thyroid gland causes problems only when the body does not produce enough thyroid hormone in a condition called hypothyroidism, there are also times when the body overproduces thyroid hormone.

Hyperthyroidism is a condition in which there is too much thyroid hormone on the tissues of the body. It is the second most prevalent endocrine disorder following Diabetes Mellitus. The most common type of hyperthyroidism is Grave’s Disease, which is a result of excessive output of thyroid hormones caused by the abnormal stimulation of the Thyroid Gland. It affects women eight times more frequently than men and usually begins at the second and fourth decades of life.

Persons who are experiencing this condition often feel warmer than those around them and they may even be slowly losing weight even though they are eating more. This is due to the increased metabolism of their bodies. In some cases patients may even gain weight with hyperthyroidism, and may be exhausted from the constant overstimulation of the body by the hormones released by the thyroid gland. Having these symptoms does not necessarily mean that someone has the disease—it just means it may be prudent to schedule a consultation with a doctor for appropriate investigation or consultation. Hyperthyroidism may also develop after severe stressors or from experiencing emotional shock.

Bilateral_exophthalmos Usually, the symptoms of Hyperthyroidism have a gradual onset. This is the reason why patients do not realize the symptoms until they become severe. A person with hyperthyroidism shows a group of signs and symptoms that are referred to as Thyrotoxicosis. Nervousness is often the presenting sign. If you are hyperexcitable, irritable and apprehensive and suffer from palpitations, you may want to be evaluated for hyperthyroidism. Aside from this, the skin is flushed continuously, and is likely warm and soft. There are also fine tremors of the hands. The most striking sign is exophthalmos, a state when the eyes bulge, thus producing a startled facial expression. The symptoms include increased appetite and dietary intake, amenorrhea or the absence of menstruation and changes in bowel movements. As opposed to having constipation when a patient has hypothyroidism, with hyperthyroid patients, bowel movements are usually more frequent and stools can be less formed, due to the fact that food and other nutrients are flowing more quickly through the digestive track. Patients may also experience shortness of breath, and/or a feeling of tightening around the throat if a goiter, or enlarged thyroid gland, is present. When lying down at night, there may also be symptoms of “not being able to get enough air”. In cases where goiters have become large when patients are lying down, obstructions of the vocal cords and/or esophagus is possible and can cause discomfort and feelings of not being able to breathe.

Although you won’t hear many health care professionals discuss this problem, patients can also experience pain in the throat area, especially if they have a growing goiter. As the area around the thyroid gland in the neck expands, inflammation can result and cause pain and discomfort. Using an ice pack several times a day can relieve some of the discomfort associated with this problem until treatments are implemented to resolve the cause of the thyroid problem.

If you are experiencing symptoms of hyperthyroidism, schedule an appointment with your doctor. It can be a good idea for you to document your symptoms by keeping a daily journal, noting the date, time of day, and symptoms you experience. Then bring in your symptoms journal to your doctor’s visit. Usually, during your physical examination by your health care provider, a thrill which is a sensation of an area that vibrates over a blood vessel is found, and the Thyroid gland is a bit enlarged. In severe cases, diagnosis is made on decreased TSH levels, increased T4 and an increased radioactiveiodine uptake. Iodine Thyroid Scan will also show if the cause is a single nodule or the whole gland. There are also some x-rays which reveal the presence of an enlarged thyroid gland which can occur in either hypo or hyperthyroidism.

Appropriate treatment of Hyperthyroidism depends on the cause and it may consist of numerous therapies which include anti-thyroid agents, radioactive iodine and surgery. The main goal of treating Hyperthyroidism is to reduce thyroid hyperactivity, thus relieving symptoms and preventing complications. In North America, the most common way to treat Grave’s Disease is through radioactive iodine. However, you must remember that treatments do have side effects. The most common complication is relapse or recurrent Hyperthyroidism and permanent Hypothyroidism. Patients who have had a very severe disease, a long history of dysfunction, and a large goiter have increased rates of relapse. Another method is surgery. However, it is not used frequently compared to the other treatments of the disease. Although there are some Graves’ disease patients who will need to have surgical removal of their thyroid due to medicine intolerance, other causes of hyperthyroidism are better suited for surgical treatment earlier in the disease. Discontinuation of anti-thyroid medications before completing the therapy usually results in relapse within six months.

These are the salient things that you must remember about Hyperthyroidism. As always, be persistent if you have symptoms that are not resolving and/or if you feel you may have a thyroid issue that is undiagnosed. It is not unusual in some cases for patients to have to see multiple doctors before being diagnosed properly with a thyroid disorder.