Individuals who have an overactive thyroid have a condition that is called hyperthyroidism. The thyroid gland has numerous functions, such as maintaining the body’s temperature, controlling protein production and it helps with carbohydrate and fat utilization. This gland also has an impact on the heart rate. When a person’s thyroid gland generates an excessive amount of thyroxine, this hormone causes the body’s metabolism to increase considerably.
Diseases that cause hyperthyroidism include an autoimmune condition that is known as Graves’ disease and Plummer’s disease, which triggers the thyroid gland to increase in size. Other causes of this condition include an inflamed thyroid gland, which causes thyroiditis, and nodules, which are lumps that grow in the thyroid gland.
A heightened metabolism causes various symptoms including a fast heartbeat, hand tremors, anxiety, nervousness, excessive sweating and bouts of irritability. Individuals often eat more because they feel hungry all the time, but they rapidly begin to lose weight. Bowel movements become more frequent and females may notice irregularities in their menstrual cycle.
Other common signs that indicate hyperthyroidism include sleeping problems, tiredness and weakened muscles.
Hyperthyroidism can have a number of causes, ranging from genetic to environmental factors. Commonly, it is caused by autoimmune disorders, with Graves’ disease being the most common driver. Graves’ disease tends to be more common in women and have a genetic component. Additionally, other genetic factors, while less common, can also lead to a diagnosis of hyperthyroidism. These include McCune-Albright syndrome, which is a mutation in the GNAS gene; and a TSHR gene-mutation. Additionally, other conditions have been associated with hyperthyroidism including Plummer’s disease, which is also known as toxic multi-nodular goiter. Tumors, both benign and malignant have been known to cause hyperthyroidism as well.
Benign tumors of the thyroid and pituitary gland can cause hyperthyroidism. In addition malignant tumors of the testes or ovaries are also drivers of hyperthyroidism. Some lifestyle factors may drive the development of hyperthyroidism too, including intake of excess iodine and large amounts of tetraiodothyronine in the diet or in certain mediations. Also, idiopathic or non-disease related thyroiditis, or inflammation of the thyroid, also causes hyperthyroidism, as this causes an excess secretion of T4 and T3 into the blood.
Treating hyperthyroidism usually consists of taking a type of anti-thyroid drug. These medications prohibit the thyroid gland from generating surplus hormones. It normally takes approximately three months before individuals notice any improvements when taking these medications and it is often recommended to stay on the medication for a minimum of one year. Radioactive iodine may also be taken orally to decrease the size of the thyroid gland.
People who are unable to take anti-thyroid medications or radioactive iodine may opt for a thyroidectomy, which is the surgical removal of a large portion of the thyroid gland. This option should be carefully considered as there is the possibility of causing injury to the vocal cords.
While in most cases hyperthyroidism is caused by genetics, there are a number of steps that can be taken to minimize the risk of its development in cases where it is caused by lifestyle or environmental factors. It is helpful to limit the amount of iodine in the diet to recommended levels to reduce the risk of hyperthyroidism. Additionally, watching levels of tetraiodothyronine in the diet and monitoring medications with this component are also effective preventative measures. In addition, proper treatment and monitoring of an enlarged thyroid is essential. Regarding cases of hyperthyroidism caused by tumors, if possible, tumor resection may be effective. Regarding malignant tumors of the testes or ovaries, following a treatment regimen as developed by an oncologist can help reduce the risk of hyperthyroidism as the primary driver will be effectively impacted. Additionally, in cases of genetically mediated cases, proper monitoring and genetic testing may help prevent the development of hyperthyroidism.