Hyperthyroidism more commonly affects women who are between ages 20 and 40, but men can also develop this condition. The symptoms can be frightening, especially if the person affected has no idea what is happening to them.
Symptoms can include:
- Muscle weakness so that it can be difficult to walk up stairs or lift heavy things
- Trembling hands
- Rapid heartbeat
- Weight loss even though you are eating normally or excessively
- Diarrhea or frequent bowel movements
- Irritability and anxiety
- Eye problems (irritated eyes or difficulty seeing)
- Menstrual irregularities
- Intolerance to heat and increased sweating
Hyperthyroidism more commonly affects women because Graves’ disease is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism. It occurs when the immune system produces antibodies that attack the thyroid gland. This causes the thyroid to enlarge and make too much thyroid hormone. This condition happens often in people with a family history of thyroid disease. In some patients with Graves’ disease, one of the noticeable symptoms may be swelling behind the eyes that cause them to push forward or bulge.
Other causes of hyperthyroidism:
- Thyroid Nodules
- Taking too much thyroid hormone medication to treat other conditions.
- Subacute thyroiditis (An inflamed thyroid gland, caused by a virus, that typically causes neck discomfort or tenderness near the thyroid gland. When the infection leaves, the condition improves.).
- Lymphocytic thyroiditis and postpartum thyroiditis (These can cause the thyroid to become inflamed and release too much thyroid hormone into your system.).
These drugs work to decrease the amount of hormone the thyroid gland makes. For some physicians, the preferred drug is methimazole (Tapazole®) because it may need to be taken only once a day. For pregnant or lactating women, a drug called PTU (propylthiouracil) may be preferred.
Hyperthyroidism more commonly affects women and antithyroid drugs may have to take for one to two years and sometimes longer. The condition may go away, but there could be a relapse, even years later. Therapy with antithyroid drugs is usually thought of as either short term or long term. Short term therapy is used to make the thyroid blood tests normal before a decision is made about definitive therapy. Long term therapy is used in some patients to try to make the disease remit even after the antithyroid drug is stopped.
Beta-blocker drugs, like atenolol, do not block the production of thyroid hormone. Instead, they control many troubling symptoms, especially rapid heart rate, trembling, anxiety, and the high amount of heat the body produces with this condition.
The natural element, iodine, is normally collected by the thyroid gland out of the bloodstream. Radioactive iodine treatment involves taking a radioactive form of iodine that causes the permanent destruction of the thyroid. The response to treatment can take from 6 to 18 weeks. Because the radioiodine often destroys some of the normal function of the thyroid gland, people who have this therapy will very likely need to take thyroid hormone for the rest of their lives to control their hormone levels.
Removal of the thyroid gland (thyroidectomy) is another permanent solution but is often the least preferred option. This procedure must be performed by a highly skilled and experienced thyroid surgeon because of the risk of damage to nerves around the larynx (voice box) and to the parathyroid glands, which control calcium metabolism in the body. Surgery is recommended when there is a large goitre that makes breathing difficult or when antithyroid drugs are not working, or when there are reasons not to take radioactive iodine. It may also be used in patients who have coexisting thyroid nodule(s), especially when a fine needle aspiration is suspicious for cancer. This circumstance is unusual.
After both radioactive iodine and surgery treatments, the patient will need to be monitored regularly for adequate thyroid hormone levels in the blood. After such treatment, most patients become hypothyroid (don’t produce enough thyroid hormone) and need to take a supplement of thyroid hormone once a day.
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Also see: How to STOP Graves Disease and Hyperthyroidism (Opens in a new tab)