Hyperthyroidism (or "overactive thyroid gland") is the clinical syndrome caused by an excess of circulating free thyroxine (T4) or free triiodothyronine (T3), or both. more...
Major causes in humans are:
- Graves' disease (the most common etiology with 70-80%)
- Toxic thyroid adenoma
- Toxic multinodular goitre
Other causes of hyperthyroxinemia (high blood levels of thyroid hormones) are not to be confused with true hyperthyroidism and include subacute and other forms of thyroiditis (inflammation). Thyrotoxicosis (symptoms caused by hyperthyroxinemia) can occur in both hyperthyroidism and thyroiditis. When it causes acutely increased metabolism, it is sometimes called "thyroid storm".
Signs and symptoms
Major clinical features in humans are weight loss (often accompanied by a ravenous appetite), fatigue, weakness, hyperactivity, irritability, apathy, depression, polyuria, and sweating. Additionally, patients may present with a variety of symptoms such as palpitations and arrhythmias (notably atrial fibrillation), dyspnea, infertility, loss of libido, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. In the elderly, these classical symptoms may not be present and they may present only with fatigue and weight loss leading to apathetic hyperthyroidism
Neurological manifestations are tremor, chorea, myopathy, and periodic paralysis. Stroke of cardioembolic origin due to coexisting atrial fibrillation may be mentioned as one of the most serious complications of hyperthyroidism.
As to other autoimmune disorders related with thyrotoxicosis, an association between thyroid disease and myasthenia gravis has been well recognised. The thyroid disease, in this condition, is often an autoimmune one and approximately 5% of patients with myasthenia gravis also have hyperthyroidism. Myasthenia gravis rarely improves after thyroid treatment and relation between two entities is yet unknown. Some very rare neurological manifestations that are reported to be dubiously associated with thyrotoxicosis are pseudotumor cerebri, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and a Guillain-Barré-like syndrome.
A diagnosis is suspected through blood tests, by measuring the level of TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) in the blood. If TSH is low, there is likely to be increased production of T4 and/or T3. Measuring specific antibodies, such as anti-TSH-receptor antibodies in Graves' disease, may contribute to the diagnosis. In all patients with hyperthyroxinemia, scintigraphy is required in order to distinguish true hyperthyroidism from thyroiditis.
The major and generally accepted modalities for treatment of hyperthyroidism in humans are:
Surgery (to remove the whole thyroid or a part of it) is not extensively used because most common forms of hyperthyroidism are quite effectively treated by the radioactive iodine method. However, some Graves' disease patients who cannot tolerate medicines for one reason or another or patients who refuse radioiodine opt for surgical intervention. The procedure is relatively safe - some surgeons are even treating partial thyroidectomy on an out-patient basis.
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