What is hyperthyroidism?

When your thyroid gland isn't working right, it sometimes creates too much of a hormone called thyroxine. Your body needs this substance to use energy, stay warm and keep your organs working. When this happens, you have a condition called hyperthyroidism. Your thyroid gland is in the lower front part of your neck. It's part of your endocrine system. This makes your body's hormones. An overactive gland can be a serious condition if you don't get treatment.

Causes of hyperthyroidism

Several different things can cause this condition. One of the most common causes is another condition called Graves' disease. This disease can make your thyroid overactive. When that happens, the gland produces too many hormones. Having an enlarged thyroid gland or a tumor on the gland can also lead to hyperthyroidism. If your thyroid gland is inflamed, extra hormones might leak out and can lead to the condition, too.

Risk factors for hyperthyroidism

Different things raise your risk of having hyperthyroidism. One is an autoimmune disease called Graves' disease. This disease makes your body start attacking your thyroid gland. It happens more in women than men. It also runs in families. You're also at higher risk if you have an inflamed thyroid or benign tumors on your pituitary gland.

Symptoms of hyperthyroidism

This condition tends to make your metabolism rise substantially. This means you can lose weight very quickly even though your appetite is strong. You may notice a rapid heartbeat and sweating. It's common to feel very nervous or moody. However, sometimes you might not have symptoms. Certain medications can also hide your symptoms.

Other symptoms of hyperthyroidism include:

  • Anxiety
  • Swollen neck
  • Poor sleep habits
  • Irregular or rapid heartbeat
  • Change in menstrual patterns
  • More frequent bowel movements
  • Muscle weakness and feeling tired
  • Slight shaking, known as tremors, in your hands or fingers

Diagnosis of hyperthyroidism

If you're showing any symptoms of hyperthyroidism, your doctor will do a physical exam. They'll first check you for an enlarged thyroid gland and rapid pulse. They'll then see if you have fast reflexes, which can be another indicator of the condition. You'll likely then give blood for laboratory tests. These can confirm the levels of hormones in your blood. A thyroid scan, where your doctor takes a picture of the gland, is also common for diagnosing hyperthyroidism.

Treatments for hyperthyroidism

It's possible that your doctor will recommend surgery to remove all or a part of your thyroid gland. This is if they find that your thyroid isn't working right. Then, you'll need to take a hormone supplement to avoid hypothyroidism. That's the opposite condition of having an overactive thyroid. Your doctor may have you take beta blockers. These drugs can control your heart rate and anxiety.

Other treatments for hyperthyroidism include antithyroid medication, which stops your body from producing hormones. You might also have radioactive iodine treatment. This destroys the cells that produce hormones in your body. Side effects such as dry mouth and changes in taste are common. About 70% of all adults who develop hyperthyroidism are treated safely with radioactive iodine.

There are complications for each kind of treatment for hyperthyroidism. Discuss the different options in depth with your doctor. Before you and your doctor consider surgery, you'll need to take an antithyroid drug to see if it works.

Recovery from hyperthyroidism

While you're undergoing treatment for your hyperthyroidism, you need to closely monitor your overall health for complications. Be sure to talk with your doctor if you have any concerns or questions. People sometimes report: 

  • Worsening hyperthyroid symptoms
  • Heart problems 
  • Eye problems 
  • Brittle bones
  • Skin issues  

People who have treatment for hyperthyroidism often see very good outcomes. This is especially true if they maintain a healthy diet rich in calcium and vitamin D. Regular exercise and stress-management methods can also help during the recovery process. The earlier you meet with your doctor when experiencing symptoms, the better your outlook is for recovery.

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