Hyperthyroidism (Overactive Thyroid)

Hyperthyroidism (Overactive Thyroid)

Hyperthyroidism means a raised level of thyroid hormone. There are various causes. Graves’ disease is the most common cause. Hyperthyroidism can cause various symptoms. Treatment is usually effective. Treatment options to reduce the thyroxine level include: medicines, radioiodine and surgery. Betablockers can ease some of the symptoms. Long-term follow-up is important, even after successful treatment.

                What is hyperthyroidism?

               Thyroxine is a body chemical (hormone) made by the thyroid gland. It is carried round the body in the bloodstream. It helps to keep the body’s functions (the metabolism) working at the correct pace. Many cells and tissues in the body need thyroxine to keep them going correctly. Hyperthyroidism means an overactive thyroid gland. When your thyroid gland is overactive it makes too much thyroxine. The extra thyroxine causes many of your body’s functions to speed up. (In contrast, if you have hypothyroidism, you make too little thyroxine; this causes many of the body’s functions to slow down.)

Thyrotoxicosis is a term that may be used by doctors instead of hyperthyroidism. The two terms mean much the same.

What are the symptoms of hyperthyroidism?

The following are symptoms of hyperthyroidism:

  • Being restless, nervous, emotional, irritable, sleeping poorly and ‘always on the go’.
  • Tremor of your hands.
  • Losing weight despite an increased appetite.
  • Palpitations.
  • Sweating, a dislike of heat and an increased thirst.
  • Diarrhoea or needing to go to the toilet to pass faeces more often than normal.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Skin problems such as hair thinning and itch.
  • Menstrual changes – your periods may become very light or infrequent.
  • Tiredness and muscle weakness may be a feature.
  • A swelling of your thyroid gland (goitre) in the neck may occur.
  • Eye problems if you have Graves’ disease.

Most people with hyperthyroidism do not have all the symptoms, but a combination of two or more is common. Symptoms usually develop slowly over several weeks. All the symptoms can be caused by other problems, and so the diagnosis may not be obvious at first. Symptoms may be mild to start with, but become worse as the level of thyroxine in the blood gradually rises.

Possible complications

If you have untreated hyperthyroidism:

  • You have an increased risk of developing heart problems such as atrial fibrillation (abnormal heart rhythm), cardiomyopathy (a weak heart), angina and heart failure.
  • If you are pregnant, you have an increased risk of developing some pregnancy complications.
  • You have an increased risk of developing osteoporosis (fragile bones).

With treatment, the outlook is good. With successful treatment, most of the symptoms and risks of complications go.

Who gets hyperthyroidism?

It is more common in women. About 1 in 100 women and 1 in 1,000 men develop hyperthyroidism at some stage of their life. It can occur at any age.

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