Hyperthyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid gland produces an excessive amount of thyroxine, otherwise known as thyroid hormone. The thyroid, the gland that produces this hormone, is located toward the lower area of the neck, at around the center point. Hyperthyroidism is most common in people between 20 and 40 years of age, and among women. It is also possible to develop hyperthyroidism from taking an excessive amount of thyroid hormone replacement medicine. If you have a diagnosis of hyperthyroidism, an ear, nose and throat doctor may be able to provide further assessment and treatment to address the condition.
In order to determine the cause of an overactive thyroid gland or an excessive amount of thyroxine, a radioactive iodine uptake test may be used. This test assesses the amount of iodine that the thyroid gland absorbs; the thyroid gland uses iodine in order to create thyroxine, or the thyroid hormone. In addition, a doctor will perform an overall physical examination and review medical history in order to see whether other medical issues may also play a role.
Symptoms of Hyperthyroidism
There are a number of symptoms of hyperthyroidism, some of which can present in a subtle manner or mimic other conditions. Some of these symptoms may include:
- Enlarged thyroid gland (goiter)
- Excessive sweating and difficulty with heat
- Sudden weight loss without explanation
- Sudden changes in bowel activity
- Palpitations of the heart
- Muscular weakness
There are several conditions that could lead to the development of hyperthyroidism and excessive thyroid activity and hormone production. These causes include:
- Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disorder that enlarges the thyroid because of excessive hormone production
- Nodules in the thyroid gland that contribute to overactivity
- Non-cancerous growths on the thyroid
- Inflammation of the thyroid gland, known as thyroiditis
- Ingestion of an excessive amount of iodine
- Plummer’s disease, or a multinodular goiter
- Excessive quantities of thyroid replacement medication in hypothyroidism treatment
Treatments for Hyperthyroidism
There are several common types of treatment for hyperthyroidism. If hyperthyroidism is simply caused by thyroid replacement medication dosages that are too high, treatment will involve changing the dose and then monitoring your symptoms. If there is not an obvious cause for the overactive thyroid hormone production, the most commonly used treatment is medication, which can help to suppress hormone production.
Some medication-based treatments include:
- Thyroid suppressive medications
- Beta blockers, to treat increased heart rate caused by hyperthyroidism
- Monitoring symptoms in mild cases
In some cases, radioactive iodine treatment can be used to destroy the tissue that is overproducing thyroid hormone. In the case of severe symptoms that are not controlled by medication, a thyroidectomy, or surgery to remove the thyroid completely, could be recommended by a physician. In this case, you would likely need to take a daily thyroid replacement hormone medication following the procedure.
Hyperthyroidism can be associated with pregnancy or develop following high-stress periods. Most cases can be treated with medication, although surgery is sometimes necessary. Regular monitoring is important to determine the effectiveness of your treatment and potentially adjust medication dosages. While the condition can become serious if it is not treated, hyperthyroidism generally responds well and swiftly to medication, radioactive iodine treatment, and surgery if necessary.