Understanding Hyperthyroidism: Symptoms, Causes, and Diagnosis

Understanding Hyperthyroidism

What Is Hyperthyroidism?

Hyperthyroidism is an endocrine disorder that occurs when the thyroid produces too much of the hormone thyroxine. It is also sometimes referred to as an overactive thyroid. Symptoms include rapid heart rate, weight loss, extreme fatigue, and feeling hot all the time. Hyperthyroidism can also cause other symptoms, such as sweating, tremors, and intolerance to heat. Without treatment, the symptoms can become severe and can lead to complications like heart failure or nerve damage.

Signs and Symptoms of Hyperthyroidism

  • Rapid heart rate (tachycardia)
  • Weight loss, despite normal food intake
  • Nervousness, anxiety, or irritability
  • Weakness of muscles or soreness in the arms and legs
  • Tiredness or exhaustion
  • Increased perspiration or sweating
  • Shakiness of the hands (tremors)
  • Less tolerance for heat or hot flashes
  • Hair loss
  • Thinning of the skin
  • Enlargement of the thyroid gland (goiter)

If you have any of these symptoms, contact your doctor to be evaluated for hyperthyroidism.

Causes of Hyperthyroidism

Hyperthyroidism can be caused by several things. The most common is Graves’ disease, an autoimmune condition in which the body’s own immune system mistakenly attacks the thyroid. This can result in the overproduction of thyroxine, resulting in hyperthyroidism.

Other causes include toxic adenoma, a noncancerous tumor in the thyroid that produces too much thyroxine; iodine deficiency or too much iodine in the diet; or thyroiditis, an inflammation of the thyroid caused by a virus or bacteria. Less commonly, medications, such as amiodarone, can cause hyperthyroidism.

Diagnosis of Hyperthyroidism

Your doctor will first do a physical examination and review your medical history. Other tests will include blood tests to measure levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) and thyroxine (T4). If these results suggest that you have hyperthyroidism,your doctor may also order a radioactive iodine uptake test and a thyroid scan to confirm the diagnosis. An ultrasound may also be performed to help determine the cause of hyperthyroidism.

Treatment of Hyperthyroidism

Treatment for hyperthyroidism may include taking medications to reduce the production of thyroxine, undergoing radioactive iodine treatment, and/or having surgery to remove part or all of the thyroid. Natural treatments, such as taking herbs and vitamins and making lifestyle changes, may also be used to help manage hyperthyroidism.

Health Risks of Untreated Hyperthyroidism

Untreated hyperthyroidism can lead to a number of serious health problems, including heart failure, osteoporosis, and thyroid storm. It can also lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. Treating hyperthyroidism is important to prevent these serious complications.

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