The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that sits low on the front of the neck. It is present just above the collar bone. It has two side lobes, connected by a bridge in the middle. The thyroid secretes several hormones, collectively called thyroid hormones. Brownish-red in color, the thyroid is rich with blood vessels. The thyroid gland secretes three hormones that play an essential role in metabolism, growth, and maturation of the human body. These are:
- Triiodothyronine or T3
- Tetraiodothyronine also called thyroxine or T4
Alteration of hormone secretion may cause hyper and hypothyroidism, and hence everyone should know the symptoms of hyperthyroidism, causes, and management.
Hyperthyroidism is a condition in which there is excessive production of thyroid hormone “thyroxine” due to an overactive thyroid gland. The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped organ located in the front of the neck. Thyroid hormone controls various body functions such as metabolism which affects the body’s weight, body temperature, breathing, heart rate and so on. Worldwide prevalence of hyperthyroidism is about 0.5%.
Symptoms of Hyperthyroidism
Symptoms associated with Hyperthyroidism include:
- The unexpected loss of weight (or in some rare cases weight gain)
- Trouble in breathing (shallow breathing)
- Tachycardia (fast) or irregular heartbeat
- Difficulty in concentrating and fatigue
- Hand tremors and sweating
- Heat Intolerance
- Change in appetite
- Restlessness and nervousness
- Irregular menstrual periods (generally light and infrequent)
- Altered or frequent bowel movement
- Goiter (enlargement of the thyroid gland or thyroid nodules)
- Vision Changes
- Thinning of Hair
- Muscles Weakness
Causes of Hyperthyroidism
In Hyperthyroidism, thyroid gland starts secreting excessive amount of thyroxine, which may be due to:
- Excessive or overconsumption of iodine in foods or supplements
- Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disease- It the most common cause of hyperthyroidism. Antibodies produced by own body’s immune system stimulate the gland to produce the hormone in excess
- Toxic nodular or multinodular goiter in which thyroid produces excessive amounts of thyroid hormones due to noncancerous lumps or nodules in the thyroid gland
- Thyroiditis, due to inflammation of thyroid gland which results in excessive hormone secretion
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Risk Factors of Hyperthyroidism
- Age: It is more common in people aged 60 or above
- Gender: Women are more likely to develop hyperthyroidism than men
- Food: People who eat more saltwater fish are at higher risk
- Viral infections
- Postpartum Thyroiditis (Inflammation of thyroid gland) after pregnancy
Complications due to Hyperthyroidism
- Thyroid crisis (storm): Abrupt release of large amounts of hormones leading to worsening of the hyperthyroidism symptoms. It usually occurs with infection or stress.
- Heart complications which include tachycardia, abnormal heart rhythm, and heart failure
- Blurring or double vision
Prevention and Management
Hyperthyroidism due to genetic conditions can’t be prevented such as due to Grave’s disease
Other factors which may help in avoiding hyperthyroidism are:
- Restrict excessive intake of iodine
- Regular tests for thyroid
It is generally diagnosed by performing thyroid hormone test in blood.
There are several treatments available depending on the cause and severity of the disease such as:
- Radioactive iodine destroys the overactive thyroid gland by gradually shrinking it and making it underactive.
- Anti-thyroid medications can be used. These drugs prevent the thyroid gland from producing hormones in excess. These include propylthiouracil and methimazole (Tapazole). The treatment often continues for a year or longer. Symptoms improve in six to twelve weeks.
- Beta-blockers improve the symptoms of hyperthyroidism such as heart rate and tremors. These slow down the heart rate and help in reducing tremors.
- Surgery (thyroidectomy), in case of pregnancy or intolerance of anti-thyroid medications, surgery becomes an option for thyroid treatment.
Points to Remember
- Hyperthyroidism is most often caused by Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disorder. People who smoke are more likely to develop Graves’ disease. Stop smoking and avoid second-hand smoke.
- Before planning pregnancy, women with hyperthyroidism should consult a doctor.
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