Hyperthyroidism (the overactivity of the thyroid gland) occurs when the thyroid gland produces and releases too much thyroxine. Excess thyroxine accelerates the body’s metabolism. Women tend to be more likely to be affected by hyperthyroidism than men. Although it can occur at any age, hyperthyroidism is more common in young adults and middle aged patients. There are several conditions that can make the thyroid release too much hormones. The most common cause is an autoimmune disease called Basedow-Graves. Other causes can be the inflammation of the gland (thyroiditis) and the emergence of thyroid nodules (bumps).
Hyperthyroidism Signs And Symptoms
The most common signs of hyperthyroidism are weight loss despite having an increased appetite; rapid or irregular heartbeat and/or palpitations; sweating; swelling located at the neck (goiter); frequent stools, sometimes diarrhea; fatigue and muscle weakness; increased sensitivity to heat; in women, menstrual cycle changes may occur; sleep disturbance; fever; fast pulse; agitation and delirium.
How Serious Is Hyperthyroidism?
Hyperthyroidism can have serious consequences if it left untreated. Complications include heart problems such as a high heart rate, irregular heartbeat (atrial fibrillation) or heart failure. Untreated hyperthyroidism can cause osteoporosis. If you have a thyroid disorder characterized by hyperactivity, you also have a risk of developing thyrotoxicosis. This is a sudden increase of signs and symptoms that leads to fever and even delirium. This requires immediate medical attention. Common manifestations of hyperthyroidism also include the acceleration of the metabolism due to increased appetite, feeling hot when others are cold and having trembling hands. Your heart can beat at a high, upsetting, frequency and can sometimes present a irregular rythm. Sleep disorders are also common in patients that suffer from hyperthyroidism. Your thyroid may be enlarged, but often it’s so little that it’s not even observable.
Hyperthyroidism is usually diagnosed based on medical history, physical examination and blood tests. During the examination, the doctor can detect a slight tremor of the fingers when you hold them stretched out. You may be asked about changes, stool frequency or about any sensitivity to temperature. Your doctor may also ask you to swallow as he examines the thyroid, a procedure which makes the thyroid easily palpable. Blood tests can detect an increase in thyroxine concentration. They can demonstrate the low value or absence of the thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), which is produced by the pituitary gland and is suppressed when there are too many thyroid hormones. These results may help diagnose hyperthyroidism.
However, these tests can only indicate the hyperfunction of the thyroid, whilst not revealing the cause. The doctor may use a method of radioiodine capturing to help facilitate diagnosis and treatment planning. In this test, you are given a small amount of radioactive iodine. Over time, iodine accumulates in the thyroid, where it is absorbed and used to manufacture thyroxine. The doctor will make determinations after 2, 6 or 24 hours, or sometimes all three moments to determine how much iodine your thyroid has absorbed. A high intake of iodine indicates that the thyroid produces too much thyroxine, which occurs in the Basedow-Graves disease and hyperfunctional thyroid nodules. If the capture is low, then the most likely cause is thyroiditis. In this inflammatory disease of the thyroid, captured iodine is locked, but the thyroid gland hormones are released in excess. Your doctor may also get a picture of the thyroid gland (thyroid tomography) to help determine the cause and establish a possible treatment.
Hyperthyroidism treatment depends on the cause, the patients’ physical condition, age and disease severity. Treatment includes radioactive iodine, antithyroid drugs, beta blockers and surgical treatment.