Hyperthyroidism is the overproduction of thyroid hormones by an overactive thyroid.
Located in the front of the neck, the thyroid gland produces the hormones thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3 ) that regulate the body's metabolic rate by helping to form protein ribonucleic acid (RNA) and increasing oxygen absorption in every cell. In turn, the production of these hormones are controlled by thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) that is produced by the pituitary gland. When production of the thyroid hormones increases despite the level of TSH being produced, hyperthyroidism occurs. The excessive amount of thyroid hormones in the blood increases the body's metabolism, creating both mental and physical symptoms.
The term hyperthyroidism covers any disease which results in an overabundance of thyroid hormone. Other names for hyperthyroidism, or specific diseases within the category, include Graves' disease, diffuse toxic goiter, Basedow's disease, Parry's disease, and thyrotoxicosis. The disease is 10 times more common in women than in men, and the annual incidence of hyperthyroidism in the United States is about one per 1,000 women. Although it occurs at all ages, hyperthyroidism is most likely to occur after the age of 15. There is a form of hyperthyroidism called neonatal Graves' disease, which occurs in infants born of mothers with Graves' disease. Occult hyperthyroidism may occur in patients over 65 and is characterized by a distinct lack of typical symptoms. Diffuse toxic goiter occurs in as many as 80% of patients with hyperthyroidism.
Causes & symptoms
Hyperthyroidism is often associated with the body's production of autoantibodies in the blood which cause the thyroid to grow and secrete excess thyroid hormone. This condition, as well as other forms of hyperthyroidism, may be inherited. Regardless of the cause, hyperthyroidism produces the same symptoms, including weight loss with increased appetite, shortness of breath and fatigue, intolerance to heat, heart palpitations, increased frequency of bowel movements, weak muscles, tremors, anxiety, and difficulty sleeping. Women may also notice decreased menstrual flow and irregular menstrual cycles.
Patients with Graves' disease often have a goiter (visible enlargement of the thyroid gland), although as many as 10% do not. These patients may also have bulging eyes. Thyroid storm, a serious form of hyperthyroidism, may show up as sudden and acute symptoms, some of which mimic typical hyperthyroidism, as well as the addition of fever, substantial weakness, extreme restlessness, confusion, emotional swings or psychosis, and perhaps even coma.
Physicians will look for physical signs and symptoms indicated by patient history. On inspection, the physician may note symptoms such as a goiter or eye bulging. Other symptoms or family history may be clues to a diagnosis of hyperthyroidism. An elevated body temperature (basal body temperature) above 98.6°F (37°C) may be an indication of a heightened metabolic rate (basal metabolic rate) and hyperthyroidism. A simple blood test can be performed to determine the amount of thyroid hormone in the patient's blood. The diagnosis is usually straightforward with this combination of clinical history, physical examination, and routine blood hormone tests. Radioimmunoassay, or a test to show concentrations of thyroid hormones with the use of a radioisotope mixed with fluid samples, helps confirm the diagnosis. A thyroid scan is a nuclear medicine procedure involving injection of a radioisotope dye which will tag the thyroid and help produce a clear image of inflammation or involvement of the entire thyroid. Other tests can determine thyroid function and thyroid-stimulating hormone levels. Ultrasonography, computed tomography scans (CT scan), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may provide visual confirmation of a diagnosis or help to determine the extent of involvement.
Alternative treatments for hyperthyroidisms include nutritional therapy, herbal therapy, and homeopathy.
Consumption of foods such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, rutabagas, spinach, turnips, peaches, and pears can help naturally suppress thyroid hormone production. Dairy products and any stimulants such as tea, coffee, soda, any other caffeinated drinks should be avoided. Under the supervision of a trained physician, high dosages of certain vitamin/mineral combinations can help alleviate hyperthyroidism.
An experienced homeopath may give patients specific remedies tailored to their overall personality profile as well as the specific symptoms. Symptomatic treatments may include Iodium or Natrum muriaticum.
Other alternative treatments that may help relieve hyperthyroidism symptoms include traditional Chinese medicine and Western herbal medicine. Stress reduction techniques such as meditation may also prove to be beneficial. Patients should contact experienced herbalists for specific preparations and treatment.
Treatment will depend on the specific disease and individual circumstances such as age, severity of disease, and other conditions affecting a patient's health.
Antithyroid drugs are often administered to help the patient's body cease overproduction of thyroid hormones. This medication may work for young adults, pregnant women, and others. Women who are pregnant should be treated with the lowest dose required to maintain thyroid function in order to minimize the risk of hypothyroidism in the infant.
Radioactive iodine is often prescribed to damage cells that make thyroid hormone. The cells need iodine to make the hormone, so they will absorb any iodine found in the body. The patient may take an iodine capsule daily for several weeks, resulting in the eventual shrinkage of the thyroid in size, reduced hormone production, and a return to normal blood levels. A single large oral dose of radioactive iodine simplifies treatment but should only be given to patients who are not of reproductive age or are not planning to have children, since a large amount can concentrate in the reproductive organs (gonads).
Patients treated with thyroidectomy, in the form of partial or total removal of the thyroid, most often suffer from large goiter and have suffered relapses, even after repeated attempts to address the disease through drug therapy with iodine. Patients receiving thyroidectomy or iodine therapy must be carefully monitored for years to watch for signs of hypothyroidism, or insufficient production of thyroid hormones, which can occur as a complication of thyroid production suppression.
Hyperthyroidism is generally treatable and carries a good prognosis. Most patients lead normal lives with proper treatment. Thyroid storm, however, can be life-threatening and can lead to heart, liver, or kidney failure.
There are no known prevention methods for hyperthyroidism, since its causes are either inherited or not completely understood. The best prevention tactic is knowledge of family history and close attention to symptoms and signs of the disease. Careful attention to prescribed therapy can prevent complications of the disease.
- Chronic enlargement of the thyroid gland.
- Organs that produce sex cells--the ovaries and testes.
- Rapid and forceful heartbeat.
- A chemical tagged with radioactive compounds that is injected during a nuclear medicine procedure to highlight organ or tissue.
- Removal of the thyroid gland.
Symptoms of Hyperthyroidism
|Weight loss with increased appetite|
|Heightened blood pressure|
|Increased bowel movements|
|Accelerated heart rate |
For Your Information
- The Burton Goldberg Group. Alternative Medicine. Puyallup, WA: Future Medicine Publishing Inc., 1994.
- Zand, Janet, Allan N. Spreen, and James B. LaValle. "Hyperthyroidism." Smart Medicine for Healthier Living. Garden City Park, NY: Avery Publishing Group, 1999.
- Lazarus, John H."Hyperthyroidism." The Lancet 340 (February 1, 1997): 339-342.
- The Thyroid Foundation of America. 350 Ruth Sleeper Hall RSL 350, Parkman Street, Boston, MA. 02114. (800)832-8321. http://www.clark.net/pub/tfa.
- "Endocrine disorder and endocrine surgery." Endocrine Web. http://www.endocrineweb.com.
Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine. Gale Group, 2001.