Hyperthyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid gland releases too much of the hormone it produces. Located in the lower portion of the neck, the thyroid gland functions to control how the body turns food into energy (metabolism). The thyroid gland also affects the heart, muscles, bones and cholesterol levels. The thyroid gland is responsible for the removal of iodine from the blood, and uses it to produce thyroid hormones. The two main hormones produced by the thyroid are thyroxine (T4) and triodothyronine (T3). Once these hormones are secreted from the thyroid gland, the majority of thyroxine (T4) is converted to (T3).
What Causes Hyperthyroidism?
There are several causes of hyperthyroidism. One of the causes of hyperthyroidism is Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disorder that is believed to run in families. Graves’ disease is a condition that most commonly affects women, and it tops the list of hyperthyroidism culprits. Other causes of hyperthyroidism include the following:
- Thyroiditis is another common cause for hyperthyroidism. Thyroiditis is an inflammation of the thyroid gland.
- Excessive iodine intake may also play a role in the development of hyperthyroidism.
- Hyperfunctioning of the thyroid nodules in which one or more nodules in the thyroid grow and increase in their activity may be responsible for hyperthyroidism.
What are the Symptoms of Hyperthyroidism?
Many symptoms are associated with hyperthyroidism. In fact, so many of the symptoms listed above are also common to other medical conditions that it is often difficult to make a firm diagnosis because most other conditions must first be ruled out. The most common symptoms associated with hyperthyroidism include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Unexplained weight loss
- Rapid heartbeat
- Nervousness/anxiety (Many people who experience this particular symptom are wrongly prescribed anti-anxiety medication when it is actually the thyroid and not the serotonin that is responsible for the feelings of anxiety and nervousness).
- Increased sensitivity to heat
- Excessive sweating
- Decreased concentration
- Increased bowel movements
- Difficulty sleeping
- Increased appetite
- Irregular menstrual flow
- Irregular heartbeat and heart failure (most often occurring in older people)
A person with hyperthyroidism may experience one or more of the above-mentioned symptoms, or he/she could experience no symptoms at all. Therefore, a blood test of the T3 and T4 hormone level is necessary in order to make a conclusive diagnosis of hyperthyroidism.
What are the Complications of Hyperthyroidism?
Hyperthyroidism can complicate existing physical conditions. Among these include the following:
- Heart problems
- Opthalmopathy due to Graves’ disease. A patient who develops this condition can gain relief by applying cool compresses to the affected eye(s), use sunglasses when outdoors, keep eyes lubricated by using moisturizing drops, keep head elevated during the night.
- Graves’ disease can cause inflamed skin on the elbows and feet. Hydrocortisone cream can soothe the affected areas of the skin, reducing inflammation.
- Thyrotoxic crisis: This is a serious development that occurs when hyperthyroidism is left untreated for a long period of time. In cases of thyrotoxic crisis, a patient may develop fever, rapid pulse and can even experience spells of delirium.
On a happier note, hyperthyroidism can be treated. Treatment for this condition includes radioactive iodine and anti-thyroid medications. If warranted, surgical intervention may also be entertained.