Increased secretion of thyroid hormone by thyroid gland is termed as hyperthyroidism. Thyroid hormone plays crucial role in controlling the rate of metabolic reactions in the body. So, presence of higher amounts of thyroid hormone increases the rate of metabolic reactions resulting in various symptoms. Hyperthyroidism develops due to various reasons such as Grave’s disease, swelling of thyroid gland (Thyroiditis) due to viral infection, due to presence of small growths termed as thyroid nodules in the thyroid gland and increased use of thyroid medications to treat hypothyroidism. In majority of the cases, hyperthyroidism symptoms develop as a result of Grave’s disease.
Hyperthyroidism symptoms may or may not be observable. Symptoms vary depending on the hormone levels, age and since how long the disease has been. Commonly observed hyperthyroidism Symptoms include:
- Nervousness and anxiety.
- Fatigue and tiredness.
- Trouble breathing.
- Insomnia or disturbed sleep.
- Sensitivity to heat.
- Poor or reduced concentration.
- Irregular menstrual cycle in women.
- Increased heart rate (tachycardia) of above 100 beats per minute. Irregular heart beat (arrhythmia) in old aged people.
- Red, itchy and warm or sweaty skin.
- Soft hair that falls off quickly.
- Frequent bowel movements.
- Increased loss of weight despite of taking healthy diet.
Hyperthyroidism symptoms caused by Grave’s disease
- Enlarged and painless thyroid gland. This condition is termed as Goiter.
- Thick nails that often get lifted off from the nail bed.
- Thick, reddish and lumpy skin on the front of shins, back of foot and even on face.
- Clubbing of fingers due to presence of wide tips.
Complications of hyperthyroidism
Untreated hyperthyroidism often results in dangerous complications.
- Graves’s opthalmopathy characterized by reddening and bulging of eyes. Protruding eyeballs, blurred or double vision and sensitivity to light may also be observed.
- Increased rate of body metabolism leading to rapid weight loss.
- Cardiac problems: Racing heart beat, atrial fibrillation and heart failure.
- Bone problems: Osteoporosis develops due to inefficient replacement of calcium and other minerals of bones. Risk for bone fractures also increases.
- Thyroid storm characterized by release of huge amounts of thyroid hormone by the gland in a very short duration.
Treatment of Hyperthyroidism
Hyperthyroidism can be treated easily and the person can continue to lead normal life. Basing on the symptoms revealed by the patient, physician will do a general physical examination. If the physician suspects of hyperthyroidism then he will ask for a blood test to know the levels of Thyroid stimulating hormone and thyroid hormones in blood. Thyroid stimulating antibody levels are also estimated to diagnose Grave’s disease. Radioactive iodine thyroid scan is used to know the presence of thyroid nodules or lumps. Basing on the results and other conditions such as age the physician will plan the therapy. Until proper treatment strategy is planned physicians suggest using beta blockers such as propanolol and nadolol to prevent action of thyroid hormone and obtain relief from hyperthyroidism symptoms such as rapid heart rate. Any one of the following or multiple therapies are used to treat hyperthyroidism depending on the intensity of the disease and associated factors.
Radioactive Iodine: Single dose of radioactive iodine often cures hyperthyroidism in majority of patients. It destroys the overactive cells of thyroid gland without affecting other body parts. It takes few weeks to months for hyperthyroidism symptoms to disappear. After using radioactive iodine patients often develop hypothyroidism and should use thyroid supplements to maintain optimum levels of thyroid hormone. This therapy is not used for pregnant women.
Antithyroid medicine: Mild cases of hyperthyroidism are often treated with these medicines. Propylthiouracil and methimazole are the commonly used antithyroid drugs to arrest further production of thyroid hormone by the gland. However, they have to be taken at the same time every day and also pose the risk of serious side effects. Antithyroid medicines relieve hyperthyroidism symptoms without damaging thyroid gland.
Surgery: If the condition does not get better with radioactive iodine or antithyroid hormones then either part or whole of thyroid gland is removed. Thyroidectomy (removal of thyroid gland) is preferred when thyroid hormone levels should be reduced immediately as in case of pregnant women. After thyroidectomy patient should take thyroid hormone supplements. Surgery of thyroid gland is associated with risk of damage to voice box and parathyroid glands that pay crucial role in maintaining blood calcium levels.
Herbal remedies : Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) helps to reduce the activity of overactive thyroid cells. About 300-500mg of this herb should be taken thrice a day by mixing it in boiling water. Have the liquid after straining and cooling.
Physical therapy: placing castor oil packs over the throat reduces inflammation of the throat. Apply the oil to a clean and soft cloth and cover with plastic wrap. Now, the wrap should be placed on throat above which a heat source is placed for about half-n-hour to hour. Use of this physical therapy for three consecutive days offers relief from throat pain.
Acupuncture: This needle therapy also shows promising results in treating hormonal imbalances.
Dietary therapy: In addition to using the medications, it is recommended to make few dietary changes to compensate for the lost weight and to reduce bone problems. Under the guidance of a dietician patient can take high calorie diet along with calcium and vitamin D supplements. To prevent thinning of bones and maintain mineral balance appropriate levels of calcium and sodium should be taken.
Treatment for Grave’s ophthalmopathy: corticosteroids are used to treat eye problems associated with Grave’s ophthalmopathy. Use of cold compress, lubricating eye drops, and keeping the head at an elevated position offer certain relief from the eye problems.
Pregnant women with hyperthyroidism are often treated with beta blockers and anti-thyroid drugs to keep thyroid hormones and heart beat under control. Hyperthyroidism in new born babies is also treated using anti thyroid drugs for a short period until the antibodies derived from mother disappear from the bloodstream.
Regular blood tests should be done even after treatment of hyperthyroidism. These test results help to know if thyroid hormone levels are excess, or low or optimum. If thyroid hormone levels are less than normal range then the patient should take thyroid hormone pills to support metabolic reactions for the rest of life.
Prevention of Hyperthyroidism
Hyperthyroidism developed due to Grave’s disease cannot be prevented as it is a genetic disease. However, avoiding smoking reduces the risk of disease. People who smoke are likely to develop Grave’s disease and associated symptoms.
Hyperthyroidism should be taken care immediately after diagnosis to prevent complications. Emergency medical care should be given to patients suffering with thyrotoxic crisis characterized by sudden onset of hyperthyroidism symptoms to prevent death. Very fast pulse, delirium, confusion, restlessness and fever are sign of hyperthyroidism that need immediate medical intervention.