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     Volume 5 Issue 125 | December 22, 2006 |

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What to do About

What is hyperthyroidism?

Hyperthyroidism means your thyroid makes too much thyroid hormone. Your thyroid is a gland in the front of your neck. It controls your metabolism, which is how your body turns food into energy. It also affects your heart, muscles, bones and cholesterol.

Having too much thyroid hormone can make a lot of things in your body speed up. You may lose weight quickly, have a fast heartbeat, sweat a lot, or feel nervous and moody. Or you may have no symptoms at all. Your doctor may discover that you have hyperthyroidism while doing a test for another reason.

Hyperthyroidism is easily treated. With treatment, you can lead a healthy life. Without treatment, hyperthyroidism can lead to serious heart problems, bone problems and a dangerous condition called thyroid storm.

What happens?

If your thyroid gland makes too much thyroid hormone, you will have symptoms of hyperthyroidism. Most hyperthyroidism is caused by an immune system problem called Graves' disease. At first, your hyperthyroidism may make you feel hot, have tremors in your hands, or lose weight. Over time, you may notice that your heart is beating fast, that you feel anxious, or that you are having a lot of bowel movements. You may also feel like you just don't have as much energy as usual.

Hyperthyroidism generally does not go away on its own. Most people need treatment to make hyperthyroidism go away. After treatment, many people develop hypothyroidism (too little thyroid hormone).

In rare cases, hyperthyroidism can cause a life-threatening condition called thyroid storm, which develops when the thyroid gland releases large amounts of thyroid hormones in a short period of time. Thyroid storm usually happens after you have had a serious infection or you have been through a stressful time in your life.

What causes hyperthyroidism?

Graves' disease is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism. Graves' disease causes the thyroid gland to make too much thyroid hormone. Graves' disease, like many thyroid problems, often runs in families.

Other common causes include:

Thyroid nodules. Thyroid nodules are abnormal growths in the thyroid gland that can make too much thyroid hormone.

Thyroiditis. Thyroiditis occurs when your body makes antibodies that damage your thyroid gland. You can also get thyroiditis from a viral or bacterial infection. At first, thyroiditis may cause your thyroid levels to rise as hormone leaks out from the damaged gland. Later, levels may be low (hypothyroidism) until the gland repairs itself.

Uncommon causes of hyperthyroidism include tumours or eating foods or taking medicines that contain large amounts of iodine.

What are the symptoms of hyperthyroidism?

You may have hyperthyroidism if you:
Feel nervous, moody, weak, or tired.
Have hand tremors; have a fast or irregular heartbeat; or have trouble breathing, even when you are resting.
Sweat a lot, and have warm, red skin that may be itchy.
Have frequent and sometimes loose bowel movements.
Have fine, soft hair that is falling out.
Lose weight even though you are eating normally or more than usual.
In addition, some women have irregular menstrual cycles or stop having periods altogether, and some men may develop enlarged breasts.
The symptoms of hyperthyroidism are not the same for everyone. Your symptoms will depend on how much hormone your thyroid gland is making, how long you have had the condition and your age. If you are older, it's easy to mistakenly dismiss your symptoms as normal signs of aging.

How is hyperthyroidism diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and do a physical exam. Then he or she will order blood tests to see how much thyroid hormone your body is making.

Sometimes hyperthyroidism is found while you are having a test for another reason. You may be surprised to find out that you have this problem.

How is hyperthyroidism treated?

There are three treatments for hyperthyroidism. Antithyroid medication and radioactive iodine are the ones doctors use most often. Rarely, a person may have surgery. Even if your symptoms are not bothering you, you still need treatment because hyperthyroidism can lead to more serious problems.

The kind of treatment you have depends on your age, what is causing your hyperthyroidism, how much thyroid hormone your body is making, and other medical conditions you may have. Each kind of treatment has benefits and risks; it is important to discuss the benefits and risks of each kind of treatment with your doctor. For some people, more than one kind of treatment may be necessary.

Initial treatment

Initial treatment for hyperthyroidism usually is antithyroid medication or radioactive iodine therapy. If you have a lot of symptoms, your doctor may recommend you take antithyroid medication first to help you feel better. Then, you can decide whether to have radioactive iodine therapy.

Antithyroid medications work best if you have mild hyperthyroidism, if this is the first time you are being treated for Graves' disease, if you are younger than 50, or if your thyroid gland is only swollen a little bit (small goiter).

Radioactive iodine is often recommended if you have Graves' disease and are older than 50, or if you have thyroid nodules (toxic multinodular goiter) that are releasing too much thyroid hormone. Radioactive iodine is not used if:

You are younger than 20.
You are pregnant or you want to become pregnant within 6 months of treatment.
You are breast-feeding.
You have thyroiditis or another kind of hyperthyroidism that is often temporary.
Surgery is not usually part of initial treatment. You may need surgery if your thyroid gland is so big that you have a hard time swallowing or breathing, or if a single large thyroid nodule is releasing too much thyroid hormone.


Hyperthyroidism caused by Graves' disease is a genetic disease that you cannot prevent.

People who smoke are more likely to develop Graves' disease and Graves' ophthalmopathy than people who do not smoke.

Home Treatment

It is important to see your doctor regularly so he or she can make sure your hyperthyroidism treatment is working, that you are taking the right amount of medicine, and that you are not having any side effects.

If you are taking antithyroid medication, it is important to take the medicine at the same time every day.

If you have Graves' ophthalmopathy, you may need to use eyedrops and wear glasses to help moisten and protect your eyes.

You can help reduce the symptoms of hyperthyroidism by:

Reducing stress: This helps relieve symptoms of anxiety and nervousness. For more information, see the topic Stress Management.

Avoiding caffeine: Caffeine can worsen symptoms such as fast heartbeat, nervousness and difficulty concentrating.

Quitting smoking: If you have Graves' disease and you are a smoker, you are more likely to develop Graves' ophthalmopathy


Source: www.webmd.com


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