Hyperthyroidism: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Hyperthyroidism develops when the thyroid makes too much of the hormones that regulate metabolism. Without treatment, serious complications can develop. Early diagnosis and care are key. Read on to learn everything you need to know about hyperthyroidism.

7 minute read

Last Updated July 15, 2020

Hyperthyroidism: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

The thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland in the front of your neck, and hyperthyroidism is a condition of the thyroid. This gland produces hormones that tell your cells how to use energy, and it regulates your metabolism. 

When the thyroid makes too much of these hormones (T3 and T4), it is considered to be overactive, and this is when hyperthyroidism develops. Without treatment of the underlying cause and symptoms, more serious complications can develop.

What Causes Hyperthyroidism?

There are a few conditions that cause hyperthyroidism. The autoimmune disease known as Grave’s disease is the most common cause. This disease causes antibodies to stimulate the thyroid, which causes excessive secretion of the hormones. 

Grave’s disease is more common among women, and it also has a genetic component. Additional causes that can cause hyperthyroidism include:

♦ Tumors of the ovaries or testes
♦ Thyroiditis (inflammation of the thyroid)
♦ Excess iodine in the body (iodine is a key ingredient in both T3 and T4 hormones)
♦ Large amounts of T4 taken in dietary supplements 

Hyperthyroidism Symptoms

When T3 and T4 hormones are produced in excess, your metabolic rate will increase significantly. This hypermetabolic state causes a rapid heartbeat, increased blood pressure, sweating, a lower tolerance for heat, and hand tremors. 

Hyperthyroidism can also cause more frequent bowel movements and weight loss. The thyroid can develop a goiter (swelling in the neck) in many cases too. 

In addition to this, you may experience:

♦ Restlessness
♦ Weakness
♦ Inability to concentrate
♦ Itching
♦ Fine, brittle hair
♦ Difficulty sleeping
♦ Nausea and vomiting

Hyperthyroidism can cause atrial fibrillation, which can increase your risk for stroke and congestive heart failure.

If you notice symptoms such as shortness of breath, dizziness, a fast and irregular heartbeat, and loss of consciousness, you need to seek medical attention to make sure you are not at risk for these more serious complications.

Hyperthyroidism Diagnosis

A complete medical history and physical exam are required first. These can allow doctors to see the signs of hyperthyroidism such as weight loss, rapid pulse, high blood pressure, and an enlarged thyroid gland. Additional tests may also be done to confirm the diagnosis.

♦ The cholesterol test will check cholesterol levels, as low cholesterol can indicate an elevated metabolic rate.

♦ The thyroid-stimulating hormone level test will evaluate hormone production.

♦ Thyroid-stimulating hormone is produced by your pituitary gland, and it stimulates the thyroid gland. When levels of this hormone are low, you could have an overactive thyroid.

♦ Thyroid scans will evaluate if the thyroid is overactive and identify if the whole thyroid is overactive or just a small area of the gland.

♦ Ultrasounds can measure the gland to evaluate if it has become enlarged or if there are any masses within.

Hyperthyroidism Diet

Medications help to reduce symptoms of hyperthyroidism, but because the mineral iodine plays a big role in the production of thyroid hormones, a low-iodine diet can help with the management of this condition. 

The following foods should be added to your diet to keep iodine levels low.

♦ Non-iodized salt
♦ Egg whites
♦ Oats
♦ Potatoes
♦ Honey
♦ Fresh or canned fruit
♦ Unsalted nuts

In addition to this, certain cruciferous vegetables are known to stop your thyroid from using iodine correctly and can help manage hyperthyroidism. 

The best vegetables to add to your diet are broccoli, bamboo shoots, Brussels sprouts, kale, cauliflower, and collard greens. Eating more healthy fats, such as olive oil, avocados, and coconut oil, will also help balance hormone production.

The foods you need to avoid are those rich in iodine or have been iodine-fortified as these can not only cause hyperthyroidism when eaten in excess, but they will worsen the symptoms for those who have the condition.

♦ Fish and shellfish
♦ Algae and seaweed
♦ Milk and dairy
♦ Iodized salt
♦ Some food colorings
♦ Foods containing nitrates
♦ Foods containing gluten
♦ Soy products

Hyperthyroidism Treatment

The most common treatment for hyperthyroidism is medication that stops the gland from making hormones. In addition to this, radioactive iodine can be given, which actively destroys the cells producing the hormones. 

There are side effects to taking radioactive iodine such as dry mouth and eyes, and a sore throat, and you need to take precautions to prevent spreading radiation to others. 

Natural Treatments for Hyperthyroidism

Dietary modifications are the best way to control and manage hyperthyroidism. In addition to this, adding certain natural supplements to your daily diet can also help. The nutrients below are essential for thyroid health and can help to balance thyroid hormone production.

♦ Iron
♦ Selenium
♦ Zinc
♦ Vitamin D
♦ Calcium
♦ Turmeric

Hyperthyroidism Surgery

In severe cases, surgery can be performed to remove all or part of the thyroid gland.  After thyroid surgery, you will be required to take thyroid hormone supplements to prevent hypothyroidism, which is a condition marked by low levels of thyroid hormones. 

Beta-blockers will also be prescribed to prevent rapid heartbeats, sweating, anxiety, and high blood pressure that can be associated with thyroid removal. 

Hyperthyroidism Statistics

♦ An estimated 20 million Americans have some type of thyroid disorder.
♦ Close to 60 percent of people with thyroid disorders do not realize they have one.
♦ Women are five times more likely to develop hyperthyroidism than men.
♦ One out of eight women will develop hyperthyroidism.
♦ Approximately 1 in 10,000 children have hyperthyroidism.

Hyperthyroidism and Children

Children can develop hyperthyroidism too, although it is rare in children and teenagers. It can impact the functioning of their brain, bones, and skin as well as interrupt cognitive development. 

Hyperthyroidism in children causes mood changes, and they are often irritable, anxious, and nervous all the time. The most common cause of hyperthyroidism in children is Graves’ disease, and it is more common among girls than boys. 

Just as with adults, the right treatment and management can help children to lead a healthy and active life.

What Is the Long-Term Outlook?

The long-term outlook depends on the cause because some causes can go away without treatment.  If you have Grave’s disease, your symptoms can get worse over time, and the complications can be life-threatening. 

Your doctor will also refer you to an endocrinologist (specialist in hormone systems), and they will actively work to treat your condition and promote a better quality of life by reducing symptoms and risk of complications. Early diagnosis and treatment is the way to improve your long-term outlook in these cases.

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