Key Points about Hyperthyroidism (Overactive Thyroid)

  • Hyperthyroidism is caused when your thyroid gland produces too much of a hormone called thyroxine.
  • Having certain conditions or a family history of certain conditions can put you at an increased risk of developing an overactive thyroid.
  • Treatment of hyperthyroidism may be a combination of medicines or surgical removal of part or all of your thyroid gland.

Overview

Hyperthyroidism is when your thyroid gland produces excess levels of the hormone thyroxine. This condition can cause a number of complications, including increased metabolism, unintentional weight loss and irregular heartbeat. Hyperthyroidism can be a serious condition; however, once treated, most people can avoid further complications.

Hyperthyroidism causes

Hyperthyroidism can be caused by a number of conditions, including:

  • Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disorder
  • Plummer’s disease also called toxic multinodular goiter
  • Thyroiditis, inflammation of the thyroid gland

Hyperthyroidism risk factors

Factors that increase your risk for developing hyperthyroidism include:

  • Gender, specifically female
  • Having a family history of Graves’ disease
  • Having a personal history of certain conditions, such as type 1 diabetes, pernicious anemia and primary adrenal insufficiency

Hyperthyroidism symptoms

The signs and symptoms of hyperthyroidism are similar to those of other conditions, so it sometimes can be difficult to diagnose. Symptoms of an overactive thyroid may include:

  • Changes in menstrual patterns
  • Enlarged thyroid gland at the base of your neck (goiter)
  • Fine, brittle hair
  • Feeling nervous, anxious or irritable
  • Heart palpitations
  • Increase in appetite
  • Increased sensitivity to heat
  • Irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)
  • More frequent bowel movements
  • Rapid heartbeat (tachycardia)
  • Thin skin
  • Tremor in hands or fingers
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Unusual fatigue or muscle weakness
  • Unusual sweating

Hyperthyroidism diagnosis

Your doctor may use a series of tests to diagnosis an overactive thyroid, starting with gathering your complete personal and family medical history and conducting a comprehensive physical exam. Your doctor may also order blood tests, which are used to measure your levels of thyroxine and thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH).

Your doctor may use a radioiodine uptake test, which is used to see how much iodine collects in your thyroid gland. Rapid uptake of iodine during the test likely indicates that your thyroid is producing too much thyroxine. Your doctor may use a thyroid scan during this test to help see how much iodine is collecting in your thyroid gland.

A thyroid ultrasound is also used to obtain detailed images of your thyroid gland and to check for nodules or other irregularities.

Hyperthyroidism treatments

There are several possible treatments for an overactive thyroid. The treatment or treatments your doctor recommends for you depends on your age, your overall health, the overlying cause of your thyroid problem and the severity of your overactive thyroid. Medication treatments can include:

  • Anti-thyroid medications, which help to reduce your symptoms by blocking your thyroid gland from producing high levels of certain hormones.
  • Beta blockers, which can help manage symptoms of hyperthyroidism, such as tremor, rapid heartbeat and palpitations.
  • Radioactive iodine, which you take orally (by mouth) to shrink your thyroid gland, usually over the course of several months.

If other, more conservative treatments are not effective, your doctor may recommend surgery. Known as thyroidectomy, this surgery involves your doctor removing all or most of your thyroid gland.

When to seek care

If you experience any of these symptoms, start by voicing your concerns and symptoms to your primary care provider. From there, your doctor may suggest seeing an endocrinologist for more specialized treatment.