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Hyperthyroidism, also known as overactive thyroid, is a condition in which your thyroid gland produces excessive amounts of thyroid hormones, leading to various symptoms such as irregular heartbeat, anxiety and weight loss.

In this blog post, we will explore the causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment options for this common but often misunderstood endocrine disorder.


What is Hyperthyroidism?

Hyperthyroidism, also known as overactive thyroid, is a condition where the thyroid gland produces excessive amounts of thyroid hormones, thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3).

This makes your metabolism to speed-up, as too much thyroid hormone could lead to weight loss, among other symptoms.

These hormones play an important function in regulating your body’s metabolism, energy production and growth & development.

When produced in excess, these hormones can cause various symptoms such as weight loss and increased appetite.


Symptoms of Hyperthyroidism

In a whirlwind of confusing symptoms, it’s crucial to recognise the early signs of hyperthyroidism and seek medical help immediately to restore balance in your body.

A wide range of symptoms can be associated with hyperthyroidism, such as:

  • Weight loss
  • Increased appetite
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Nervousness or anxiety
  • Tremors in the hands and fingers
  • Sweating and heat intolerance
  • Fatigue or muscle weakness
  • Frequent bowel movements or diarrhea
  • Changes in menstrual patterns
  • Goiter (enlarged thyroid gland)
  • Eye problems (in Graves’ disease)

Causes

The causes of hyperthyroidism are varied, and understanding them is key to addressing this endocrine disorder.

From autoimmune diseases to thyroid nodules, these underlying factors can trigger an overproduction of your thyroid hormones, resulting in a range of symptoms and health complications.

Graves’ Disease

Graves’ disease is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism, accounting for around 85% of cases.

It is an autoimmune disorder in which your body’s immune system attacks your thyroid gland, causing it to produce excessive amounts of thyroid hormones.

Thyroid Nodules

Thyroid nodules are lumps or growths on your thyroid gland that can cause hyperthyroidism if they produce excessive amounts of thyroid hormones.

These nodules can either be benign or malignant (cancerous).

Thyroiditis

Thyroiditis is an inflammation of your thyroid gland that can cause temporary hyperthyroidism.

Several types of thyroiditis exist, including subacute, silent and postpartum thyroiditis.

Excessive Iodine Intake

Iodine is an essential mineral required for the production of your thyroid hormones.

However, consuming too much iodine, either through diet or medication, can cause overactive thyroid.

Medications

Some medications, such as amiodarone, interferon-alpha and lithium, can cause overactive thyroid as a side effect.


Diagnosis

A proper diagnosis of hyperthyroidism is an important step in managing this endocrine disorder.

Through a combination of physical examination, blood tests and imaging studies, your doctor can accurately identify the presence of excessive thyroid hormone production and initiate appropriate treatment.

Physical Examination and Medical History

During the initial evaluation, your doctor will review your medical history and conduct a physical examination, focusing on your thyroid gland and any symptoms you may be experiencing.

Blood Tests

Blood tests (thyroid function testing) are crucial in diagnosing hyperthyroidism.

They measure levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), T4 and T3 in your blood.

Low TSH levels combined with high T4 and/or T3 levels indicate overactive thyroid.

Imaging Studies

In fewer cases, imaging studies like thyroid ultrasound or radioactive iodine uptake tests may be performed to evaluate the thyroid gland’s structure and function.


Treatment

Treatment options for your hyperthyroidism are tailored to address the underlying cause and alleviate symptoms.

With a range of therapies, including medications, radioactive iodine and surgery, you can effectively regain control of your thyroid function and restore the lost balance in your body.

Beta-Blockers

Beta-blockers, such as propranolol, atenolol or metoprolol, are used to manage the symptoms of hyperthyroidism, including rapid heart rate, anxiety and tremors.

They do not directly affect thyroid hormone levels but can provide symptomatic relief, while other treatments take effect.

Radioactive Iodine

Radioactive iodine therapy involves the oral administration of radioactive iodine (I-131) to shrink your thyroid gland and reduce your hormone production.

This treatment is often used for patients with Graves’ disease, toxic multinodular goiter or solitary toxic nodules.

Surgery

In some cases, surgery may be necessary to remove all or part of the thyroid gland. This procedure is known as thyroidectomy.

Surgery considered when other treatments are either ineffective or contraindicated or in cases of large goiters, suspicious nodules or pregnancy.

By removing part or all of your thyroid gland, the overproduction of your thyroid hormones can be controlled, resolving the condition.

Monitoring and Long-Term Management

After receiving treatment, you may require ongoing monitoring and treatment to manage your hormone levels and address any underlying conditions.

This may include regular blood tests, follow-up appointments with your doctor, and, in some instances, thyroid hormone replacement therapy.


How to Live with Hyperthyroidism?

Managing hyperthyroidism could be challenging, but with proper treatment and monitoring, you can restore your hormonal balance.

Here are some tips that can help you with managing your rather difficult condition.

  • Regular check-ups: Attend routine appointments with your doctor to monitor your condition and adjust treatments as necessary.
  • Medication: Take prescribed medications consistently and follow your doctor’s instructions to ensure optimal thyroid hormone regulation.
  • Diet: Consume a balanced diet, incorporating selenium-rich foods such as nuts and fish and avoiding excessive iodine intake.
  • Exercise: Engage in regular physical activity to help manage your symptoms, maintain your healthy weight and improve your cardiovascular health.
  • Stress reduction: Practice stress-relieving techniques such as mindfulness, meditation or yoga to help cope with anxiety and improve your emotional well-being.
  • Sleep: Prioritise good sleep hygiene and establish a consistent sleep schedule to ensure adequate rest and recovery.
  • Eye care: In case of eye problems related to Graves’ disease, protect your eyes with sunglasses, use lubricating eye drops and elevate your head while sleeping to reduce swelling.
  • No Smoking: Avoid smoking, as it has been associated with the onset of thyroid eye disease. Smoking can also exacerbate this condition and lead to the recurrence of symptoms following treatment.

Foods to Manage Hyperthyroidism

When it comes to managing your hyperthyroidism, the food you eat can make an enormous difference to your health.

Embracing a balanced and nutritious diet not only helps alleviate symptoms but also aids your healthy lifestyle.

Here are some wholesome foods to include in your meals as you navigate life with hyperthyroidism:

  • Selenium-rich foods: Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, fish (tuna, halibut, sardines), chicken and turkey.
  • Calcium and Vitamin D-rich foods: Dairy products (milk, yogurt, cheese), fortified foods (orange juice, cereals) and fatty fish (salmon, mackerel).
  • Magnesium-rich foods: Almonds, cashews, spinach, avocado and legumes (beans, lentils).
  • Foods high in healthy fats: Fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines), avocados, nuts, seeds and olive oil.
  • Lean protein sources: Chicken, turkey, fish, tofu and legumes.
  • High-fiber foods: Whole grains (oats, barley, quinoa), fruits, vegetables and legumes.
  • Antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables: Berries, cherries, grapes, tomatoes and leafy greens.
  • B-vitamin-rich foods: Whole grains, eggs, lean meats, legumes, nuts and leafy greens.

Summary

Hyperthyroidism is a complex endocrine disorder with various causes, symptoms and treatment options.

By understanding the condition and working closely with your doctor, you can effectively manage your symptoms and maintain a high quality of life.

Stay informed, take an active role in your treatment plan and reach out for medical support when needed to navigate the challenges of living with hyperthyroidism.


 

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Sources: Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, Medline Plus, NIH, Medical News Today, Healthline, WebMD, The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, NCBI, PubMed.

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