Hyperthyroidism

(Graves' Disease; Overactive Thyroid)

Definition

The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland in the front of the neck. It produces hormones that control metabolism. Hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland becomes overactive and produces too much thyroid hormone.
The Thyroid Gland
IMAGE
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Causes

Hyperthyroidism may be caused by:
  • Graves' disease —an autoimmune disorder that occurs when the immune system produces antibodies that attack cells of the thyroid gland
  • Thyroid nodules:
    • Toxic uninodular goiter—a single area/nodule in the thyroid gland is overactive
    • Toxic multinodular goiter—multiple nodules in the thyroid gland which overproduce thyroid hormone
  • Thyroiditis—inflammation of the thyroid that may later lead to hypothyroidism
  • Taking too much thyroid hormone—very rarely from meat sources contaminated by animal thyroid glands

Risk Factors

Factors that may increase your chance of having hyperthyroidism include:
  • Pregnancy—postpartum thyroiditis (hyperthyroidism followed by hypothyroidism)
  • Family history of Graves' disease
  • Certain viral infections
  • Smoking

Symptoms

Symptoms come on slowly. As the thyroid becomes more overactive, symptoms may appear.Hyperthyroidism may cause:
  • Heart palpitations—more common in people over 50 years old
  • Rapid or irregular pulse
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Heat intolerance
  • Itchiness
  • Nervousness, restlessness, or irritability
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Increased number of bowel movements/diarrhea
  • Irregular or no menstrual periods
  • Unexplained weight loss despite an increased appetite
  • Increased sweating
  • Tremors
  • Double vision
  • Lumpy, red thickening of the skin in front of the shins

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