Around 1 in 100 people in the United States over the age of 12 have an overactive thyroid, also known as hyperthyroidism. An overactive thyroid can cause unexplained weight loss, insomnia, excessive sweating, and hand tremors. Once you’ve received your diagnosis, treatment can reduce the severity of the symptoms of hyperthyroidism or stop them entirely.
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The thyroid is a gland that sits at the front of the neck, and it releases hormones to regulate how your body uses energy. If your thyroid is overactive, it's making too many of these hormones. Certain functions within your body will speed up, such as your breathing, heart rate, and metabolism. Many people who have an overactive thyroid may also experience symptoms such as:
Fertility and menstrual cycle issues
Frequent bowel movements
Thinning or weakened bone structure
An irregular heartbeat
If you are experiencing these symptoms or have a family history of hyperthyroidism, speak to your doctor about checking your thyroid.
Hyperthyroidism shares similar symptoms with many other medical conditions. Fortunately, doctors can use a simple blood test to check your thyroid levels. If the levels are too high, your doctor may recommend treatment for hyperthyroidism.
In addition to blood tests, your doctor may request imaging scans such as a thyroid scan, radioiodine thyroid uptake scan, or thyroid ultrasound. These will allow your doctor to look for unusual growths on the thyroid or other areas of concern that may be causing the thyroid to overproduce the thyroid hormones.
During a radioiodine thyroid uptake scan, you will take a small amount of radioactive iodine in pill, liquid, or gas form. The doctor will use a camera that detects gamma rays from the radiation to create an image of the structure of your thyroid and how well it’s working. The images can help your doctor see areas of abnormality and determine if there are nodules on your thyroid.
There are many treatment options for an overactive thyroid. When choosing your treatment, your doctor will consider factors such as your age, the severity of your condition, and whether or not you are currently pregnant. Some of the treatment options include:
As the thyroid depends on iodine to produce its hormones, limiting your intake of iodine-rich foods could lower your thyroid levels. Iodine-rich foods include fish, seaweed, and shrimp.
Anti-thyroid medication, usually propylthiouracil and methimazole, prevents the process¹ required to make thyroid hormones. Beta-blockers are another option. These don't change the way the thyroid functions but relieve many of the symptoms associated with hyperthyroidism.²
Radioactive iodine therapy
Radioactive iodine therapy is a small dose of radiation in pill form that destroys some thyroid cells, causing the gland to shrink.
If you aren't responding to medication and dietary changes, your doctor may recommend surgery. This could involve removing all or part of your thyroid gland. After your surgery, you may need to take lifelong thyroid medication to ensure you have the right thyroid hormone levels.
Women are more likely to have an overactive thyroid. If they become pregnant, it can impact the treatments available to them. However, there are still safe and effective methods to treat hyperthyroidism during pregnancy.
For medication, doctors recommend propylthiouracil for the first trimester. After that, your doctor may switch you to Methimazole. This is the most commonly prescribed anti-thyroid medication, but it may cause congenital disabilities if taken early in the pregnancy.
Radioactive iodine therapy isn't suitable for anyone who is pregnant or may become pregnant soon, and it's also not recommended for those who are breastfeeding.
Hyperthyroidism occurs in about 1% of the population, affecting more women than men. You are more likely to develop the condition if:
You are over 60
You have Type 1 diabetes
You have Addison's disease
You have an iodine-rich diet
You've recently been pregnant
There is a history of thyroid problems in your family
Many people find their condition is well-controlled with medication and dietary changes, and surgical intervention is rarely required. Doctors can permanently stop an overactive thyroid gland through radioactive iodine treatments and surgery. However, patients often require lifelong thyroid medication after these treatments.
Antibodies may attack the thyroid in certain conditions, such as Grave’s disease, causing thyroid issues. With the right treatment, Grave’s disease can go into remission, but there is still a risk of relapse as the disorder's underlying cause is not ‘cured.
With the right medical care, many people with thyroid disorders can live healthy lives with a normal functioning thyroid.
If you are experiencing symptoms associated with hyperthyroidism, make an appointment with your primary care physician. They can perform a physical examination, blood tests, and imaging scans to determine if a thyroid issue or another underlying cause is causing your symptoms.
If you have an overactive thyroid, your doctor may recommend more tests to understand why it's creating too many thyroid hormones. They may also recommend treatments such as medication, dietary changes, or surgery.
Around 1% of the population of the United States has an overactive thyroid, also known as hyperthyroidism. This happens when the thyroid gland produces too much of the thyroid hormone, which is responsible for regulating how your body uses energy. When there is too much thyroid hormone in your body, you may experience symptoms such as an irregular heartbeat, tremors, insomnia, increased appetite, and unexplained weight loss.
Many treatment options are available, including medication, dietary changes, and surgery. Normal thyroid function can be restored with the correct treatment, although there is a risk of relapse with some thyroid disorders.
Many people can manage their symptoms through medication and dietary changes. Your treatment options may vary depending on your age, the severity of your condition, and whether pregnancy is a factor. If you are currently experiencing any of the symptoms of hyperthyroidism, speak to your primary care provider.