Your thyroid is a gland located in your throat, just below your Adam's apple. A healthy thyroid is approximately two inches long and has a distinct butterfly or a bowtie shape. Each half of the gland is called a lobe, and the connecting tissue is called the isthmus.
The thyroid gland is part of your endocrine system. Your thyroid — along with your adrenal glands, pancreas, and testicles — produces hormones that keep your body functioning as it should.
The hormones produced by your thyroid are called "T3" (triiodothyronine) and "T4" (thyroxine, which is also called tetraiodothyronine). T3 and T4 control how your body uses energy. An imbalance of these hormones can cause widespread symptoms.
Thyroid disorders are often overlooked in men, as women are five to eight times more likely¹ to develop these conditions. One thyroid disorder that men can experience is hyperthyroidism. Learn more about this condition, what the hyperthyroidism symptoms in men are, and when you should see a healthcare professional.
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Hyperthyroidism, also known as an overactive thyroid, occurs when the thyroid gland produces too many T3 and T4 hormones. The resultant condition is also referred to as thyrotoxicosis. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates that 1% of Americans aged 12 and older² have hyperthyroidism. In the US, the majority of hyperthyroidism cases are caused by an autoimmune disorder called Graves' disease.
While men and women may experience many of the same symptoms, there are several male-specific hyperthyroid symptoms.
Men with an undiagnosed or untreated overactive thyroid may experience symptoms that impact their sexual health. These symptoms can interfere with your intimate relationships, affect your fertility, and take a toll on your self-esteem.
Erectile dysfunction (ED) occurs when a man cannot keep or maintain an erection. About one-third of all men³ will experience ED, which becomes more prevalent with age. One study found that ED is "extremely common in males with thyroid disturbances." Researchers in this study observed that after eight to nine months of normal thyroid hormone levels,⁴ rates of ED dropped to that of the rest of the population.
In addition to ED, men with an overactive thyroid may experience other types of sexual dysfunction. Approximately 48–77% of men with hyperthyroidism⁵ experience some type of sexual dysfunction, including premature ejaculation and low libido.
ED and low libido can make intercourse difficult or even impossible. These symptoms are barriers for any man who wants to have children. But even in the absence of ED and low sexual desire, men with untreated hyperthyroidism can experience sperm abnormalities.
Scientific research has established a link between an overactive thyroid and sperm irregularities⁶ — abnormal sperm morphology, low sperm count, and impaired sperm motility.
There are many hyperthyroid symptoms that both men and women can experience. Below is a list of the most common symptoms.
In people with hyperthyroidism, an unexplained weight loss occurs even though your activity level and caloric consumption remain the same or even increase in some instances. If you don't weigh yourself regularly, you may notice that your clothes fit you differently.
Hyperthyroidism can speed up your metabolism and cause you to have an increased appetite. But even though you are eating more, you don't gain weight and may even lose weight.
Men may be surprised to experience a symptom typically attributed to women. However, hyperthyroidism can cause hot flash-like heat intolerance in men.
Heat intolerance can be a subtle symptom. You may notice that you turn on your air conditioning more often. Or that you can no longer get through mowing the lawn without being uncomfortable. Everyone experiences heat differently, so you want to compare how you used to tolerate heat to how you can now.
Sweating can go hand in hand with heat intolerance. However, you may also experience excessive sweating at other times. You may sweat through your clothing, on your sheets, or notice that your antiperspirant is not as effective.
An overactive thyroid may make you feel anxious, irritable, and nervous. While these emotions can be normal to some degree, an untreated thyroid issue can make mood changes more pronounced. Those around you may notice these intensified feelings.
If Graves’ disease causes your hyperthyroidism, you may notice certain skin changes. The affected skin can be raised, thicken, turn red, and have an orange-peel-like texture. These skin changes most often appear on the shin.
If you have Graves’ disease, your eyes may appear to bulge out of the sockets. The medical term for this condition is exophthalmos. It is estimated that approximately 25% of patients with Graves’ will develop exophthalmos.
Hyperthyroidism can speed up your bodily functions, including digestion. You may have more bowel movements than you normally would.
Excess thyroid hormones can cause your heart to beat rapidly. An overactive thyroid can also cause an irregular heartbeat. While most people aren't aware of their pulse, you may notice your heart "pounding" in your chest.
Hyperthyroidism can interfere with your sleep. Symptoms like increased sweating or heat-intolerance-like hot flashes can interrupt your sleep and cause you to wake up during the night.
An overactive thyroid affects each person differently. If you have hyperthyroidism, you may experience all of these symptoms or just a few. You may also notice that your symptoms aren't consistent and come and go.
A doctor cannot diagnose hyperthyroidism based solely on how you feel or what your symptoms are — many symptoms caused by an overactive thyroid overlap with other health conditions. Your doctor will need to conduct a physical exam and order certain diagnostic tests. You could have several doctor visits before hyperthyroidism is confirmed or ruled out.
Your doctor will likely start with a physical exam. They will check your vital signs such as your pulse, blood pressure, and temperature. They may also look at your skin for signs of Graves' dermopathy and any other abnormalities.
Your doctor will also ask you about any risk factors you have. Let your doctor know if you have a blood relative with a thyroid condition or an autoimmune disorder like Graves' disease.
A doctor typically cannot confirm that you have an overactive thyroid without blood tests. These tests measure:
Thyroid hormone levels. The presence of higher than normal ranges of T3 and T4 indicates an overactive thyroid.
Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels. Your pituitary gland is a pea-sized gland located in your brain. This gland produces TSH, which tells your thyroid how much T3 and T4 to make.
Thyroid antibodies. These antibodies will be present if an autoimmune disorder like Graves' disease is causing your hyperthyroidism.
Your blood test results may tell your doctor enough information about your thyroid gland. But in some cases, you may need to have other diagnostic tests performed.
This diagnostic test can find — or take a closer look at — any lumps on your thyroid called nodules.
During this test, a special camera takes photos of your thyroid. Before the scan, you will take a small amount of radioactive iodine, either orally or via an injection. If you have an overactive thyroid, the radioactive iodine will be visible on the images.
If your doctor orders a thyroid uptake test, you will first be given radioactive iodine in liquid or capsule form. Then, a special device called a gamma probe is placed near your neck. This test is called an "uptake test" because the probe measures how much of the iodine your thyroid "took up" from your bloodstream.
An autoimmune disorder causes the majority of hyperthyroidism cases in the US. When your immune system is healthy and works how it should, it attacks germs and other foreign cells that can make you sick.
If you have Graves' disease, your immune system mistakenly attacks your healthy thyroid cells. This causes the thyroid gland to produce more T3 and T4 than your body needs. Four out of every five hyperthyroidism diagnoses⁷ in the US are attributed to Graves'.
Rarely, hyperthyroidism is caused by other issues such as thyroid nodules, Plummer's disease, and thyroiditis (inflammation of the thyroid gland).
Excessive iodine intake — either from medicines or diet — can also cause an overactive thyroid. The NIH recommends that healthy adult males consume 150mcg of iodine per day.⁸
If you take a prescription drug containing iodine and are worried about an increased risk of hyperthyroidism, talk with your doctor. Do not stop taking any medication on your own. The benefits of the medication that your doctor has prescribed may outweigh the chance of developing an overactive thyroid.
Research has shown that certain factors make it more likely for a man to develop hyperthyroidism. Lifestyle risk factors that may affect your risk of some types of hyperthyroidism, such as Graves’, include:
Smoking or using other nicotine products
An increased iodine intake due to your diet
Other hyperthyroidism risk factors are things you cannot control, such as:
Being over 60 years of age
A family history of thyroid diseases
Having certain other health conditions
Primary adrenal insufficiency
Keep in mind that having one or even multiple risk factors does not guarantee that you will ever develop an overactive thyroid.
Your doctor will recommend treatment based on the cause of your hyperthyroidism (if known), your overall health, and your symptoms. Managing an overactive thyroid can involve medication, radioactive iodine treatment, and surgery.
Antithyroid drugs cause your thyroid to produce fewer T3 and T4 hormones. Two commonly prescribed medications for an overactive thyroid are propylthiouracil and methimazole.
Your doctor may also prescribe a beta-blocker. This class of drugs does not directly treat an overactive thyroid but can alleviate symptoms such as a rapid heartbeat and tremors.
This treatment — taken in capsule or pill form — destroys hormone-producing cells in your thyroid. Radioactive iodine is the most common treatment for Graves' disease in the US.
Your doctor may recommend an operation to remove all or part of your thyroid.
Some patients who have radioactive iodine treatment or thyroid surgery will develop hypothyroidism. If you have this condition, your thyroid is underactive and doesn't produce enough T3 and T4 hormones. Hypothyroidism can be controlled with daily medication like Armour Thyroid or levothyroxine.
An overactive thyroid can be genetic, so know your family history. You should see a doctor if you experience hyperthyroid symptoms. If you and your partner experience fertility problems, ask about ruling out any thyroid issues.
After a hyperthyroid diagnosis, you will have regular blood tests to monitor your hormone levels. If your symptoms worsen or return, let your doctor know. They may need to adjust your thyroid medication dose.
The symptoms of hyperthyroidism in men can be overlooked, as the disease primarily affects women. Men with an overactive thyroid may experience sexual dysfunction, including ED, low libido, and infertility.
Most hyperthyroidism cases are caused by an autoimmune disorder called Graves' disease. Its symptoms may overlap with many other health conditions.
Let your doctor know if you have a family history of thyroid disorders. Hyperthyroid treatment can involve medication, radioactive iodine, and/or surgery.
General information/Press room | American Thyroid Association
Hyperthyroidism (Overactive thyroid) | (NIDDK) National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
Graves’ disease | (NIDDK) National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
Iodine | National Institute of Health