Hyperthyroidism

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Overview

Hyperthyroidism is a disease that occurs when your thyroid gland—a small, butterfly-shaped gland located in your neck—produces too much thyroid hormone.


Graves’ disease is the most common cause, affecting over 70% of people with hyperthyroidism.1 In Graves’ disease, a person’s immune system inappropriately produces antibodies that overstimulate the thyroid gland, causing excessive thyroid hormone production. 


Hyperthyroidism can increase metabolism, leading to weight loss, frequent bowel movements, sweating, a fast heart rate, and more. Blood tests diagnose it, and treatment typically involves taking prescription medication or undergoing radioactive iodine ablation.2 Less commonly, surgical removal of the thyroid gland may be performed.

Symptoms

Symptoms of hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid gland) can vary from person to person and may include:6


Fatigue

Muscle weakness

Nervousness or irritability

Insomnia

Mood swings

Heat intolerance

Tremors

Diarrhea or frequent loose stools

Weight loss

Irregular heartbeat

Irregular periods

Brittle hair

Goiter (an enlarged thyroid gland)

Causes

Hyperthyroidism can be caused by a number of conditions, including Graves' disease, Plummer's disease and thyroiditis. Your thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland at the base of your neck, just below your Adam's apple. The thyroid gland has an enormous impact on your health.

Graves' disease, the most common cause of hyperthyroidism, is an autoimmune disorder. With this disease, your immune system attacks the thyroid and causes it to make too much thyroid hormone.

Risk factors

A family history, particularly of Graves' disease.

Female sex.

A personal history of certain chronic illnesses, such as type 1 diabetes, pernicious anemia and primary adrenal insufficiency.

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Complications

There are a few major complications that may result from having hyperthyroidism, especially if left untreated.


Eye 

Some people develop eye issues (called Graves' ophthalmopathy), which may cause gritty, red eyes or protrusion of the eyes due to swelling behind the eyeballs.2 In severe cases, double vision can develop.


Bone

Hyperthyroidism is linked to osteoporosis, which causes bone weakening, making a person more prone to breaking bones with even minor bumps or falls.


Heart

In hyperthyroidism, there is a high risk of developing atrial fibrillation, especially in older people. Atrial fibrillation is a common heart arrhythmia that can lead to serious problems like stroke or heart failure.


Thyroid Storm

Thyroid storm is a rare but very serious, potentially life-threatening condition that occurs in people with untreated hyperthyroidism.3 It may also be triggered by a stressful event like surgery, trauma, or infection.


Thyroid storm is characterized by exaggerated symptoms of hyperthyroidism, such as a very fast heart rate, high fever, diarrhea, agitation, delirium, and/or decreased consciousness.


Pregnancy

While mild hyperthyroidism in pregnancy does not usually cause problems for a mother and her baby, moderate-to-severe hyperthyroidism in a mother can lead to various complications. 


For the baby, according to the American Thyroid Association, uncontrolled or untreated hyperthyroidism of the mother during pregnancy is associated with size that is small for gestational age, preterm birth, stillbirth, and possibly congenital malformations.4 


For the mother, potential complications of untreated hyperthyroidism include pre-eclampsia and, rarely, thyroid storm. 

Prevention

If you are a smoker, quit smoking. ...

Eat less soy. ...

Ask for a thyroid collar during x-rays to protect your thyroid gland from radiation exposure.

Consider selenium supplements. ...

Visit your doctor regularly.