What is hyperthyroidism?

Hyperthyroidism, otherwise known as overactive thyroid, occurs when the thyroid gland produces an excess of thyroid hormone. The thyroid gland is located in the base of the neck, and it is responsible for producing thyroid hormone, which helps to control metabolism. This affects functions in the body such as temperature, and the internal body clock (affecting sleep). An excess of thyroid hormone can therefore affect the metabolism and cause problems in the body.

Hyperthyroidism more commonly affects women, and while it can occur at any age, it is usually seen appearing more in those between 20 and 40 years of age.

What are the symptoms of hyperthyroidism?

As the thyroid gland affects many bodily functions connected to metabolism, hyperthyroidism has a wide range of symptoms. These include:

  • Heat sensitivity
  • Feeling nervous, anxious, or irritable
  • Fatigue
  • Mood swings
  • A more frequent need to pee
  • Weakness in the muscles
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Lack of sexual interest
  • Feeling constantly thirsty
  • Swelling in the neck (due to an enlarged thyroid gland)
  • Irregular heart beat
  • Excessive sweating
  • Hair loss
  • Weight loss
  • An itchy rash (hives)

Symptoms of hyperthyroidism can have a number of causes, but it is always best to have them checked by a GP.

What causes hyperthyroidism?

Hyperthyroidism can have multiple causes. The majority of cases occur as a result of Graves’ disease, a condition in which the immune system attacks the thyroid, causing it to produce too much thyroid hormone. Hyperthyroidism can also be caused by certain types of medication, typically those which contain iodine. An increase of iodine in the body can cause the thyroid to produce too much thyroid hormone.

Nodules, which are lumps occurring on the thyroid, can also cause hyperthyroidism as they contain thyroid tissue. This excess in thyroid tissue can result in an excess of thyroid hormone.

Less commonly, thyroiditis (inflammation of the thyroid), thyroid cancer, and benign tumours of the pituitary gland can cause hyperthyroidism.

How can it be prevented?

Hyperthyroidism is usually caused by Graves’ disease, which is a genetic disorder. As such, there is no means to prevent the condition. However, certain lifestyle measures can help reduce the risk, such as not smoking, keeping a healthy diet, exercising, and keeping stress levels minimal.

What is the treatment for hyperthyroidism?

Hyperthyroidism is usually treatable and patients are advised to see an endocrinologist, who specialises in hormone conditions, to advise the most suitable treatment method.

Treatment usually comes in the form of medication, radiation therapy (radioiodine treatment which damages the thyroid and causes it to produce less thyroid hormone), or surgery, which aims to remove part, or all of the thyroid so it is unable to produce thyroid hormone. 

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