An overactive thyroid, also known as hyperthyroidism, is when the thyroid gland produces too much of a hormone that regulates your metabolism. Having an overactive thyroid can be life-threatening at worse and uncomfortable at best. It is important to seek medical attention if you experience any symptoms of an overactive thyroid.
The thyroid gland, which sits at the bottom of the neck before the collarbone, is a butterfly-shaped gland that produces thyroxine (T-4) and triiodothyronine (T-3). When the thyroid gland becomes overactive, it produces too much thyroxine which causes unpleasant and drastic symptoms.
Causes of an Overactive Thyroid
Hyperthyroidism is a condition that can quickly get out of hand. An overactive thyroid is caused by the development of these three specific conditions: Graves’ disease, thyroiditis, and thyroid nodules.
- Graves’ Disease: One cause of an overactive thyroid is Graves’ disease, which is an immune system disorder. Graves’ disease is attributed as a cause for an overactive thyroid in 70% of all confirmed cases. In this autoimmune disease, the antibodies attack the thyroid gland, thinking that it is a threat. In response, the thyroid gland produces too many hormones — forming hyperthyroidism.
- Thyroiditis: The second most reported cause of an overactive thyroid is a condition known as thyroiditis. Thyroiditis is an infection that immediately affects the thyroid gland. The infection causes the thyroid gland to swell quickly and release hormones directly into the bloodstream. Typically, this condition occurs after pregnancy.
- Thyroid Nodules: Thyroid Nodules, also called Plummer’s disease, is a condition that targets older people. During this illness, the thyroid gland overproduces hormones because of small bumps on the gland. It typically is not dangerous and can be treated with medication.
Symptoms of an Overactive Thyroid
The symptoms of an overactive thyroid are rapid. Once the hormones seep into the bloodstream, symptoms emerge quickly. These symptoms are more common in women than they are in men. Overall symptoms include:
- Sudden, unintentional weight loss
- Irregular and rapid heartbeat
- Strange changes in the menstrual cycle
- Mood swings
- Unexpected anxiety
- Frequent bowel movements
Diagnosis of an Overactive Thyroid
Thankfully, once you are aware of the signs and begin to see them, you can contact a healthcare professional for additional testing. Diagnosing an overactive thyroid is simple but requires time to pinpoint the exact cause.
- Thyroid Panel Test: The most common test used by doctors is a thyroid panel. During this test, a medical professional will take a blood sample and examine it for high thyroid hormone levels secreted by an overactive thyroid. Based on these results, additional tests may be necessary.
- Ultrasound: Another diagnostic test is an ultrasound. The ultrasound scan uses sound waves to make an image on a monitor to view. This is performed on your neck and the doctor typically looks at the condition of your thyroid gland.
How to Treat an Overactive Thyroid
If the results are positive, it is time for treatment. Thankfully, there are various treatments for an overactive thyroid. Each person, however, gets a different and unique treatment based on the cause. If Graves’ disease is the cause of hyperthyroidism, then the doctor can prescribe antithyroid drugs. These contain methimazole (Tapazole) and propylthiouracil (PTU), which prevent the thyroid from overproducing hormones.
How to Manage an Overactive Thyroid
Medication is used to treat overactive thyroids, but it can come back. There are many ways to manage and prevent an overactive thyroid. The best way to do so is by converting to a low-iodine diet. This is so effective that doctors have been known to prescribe this dietary change either coupled with medication or separately.
- Am I at risk for hypothyroidism? Maybe! The answer depends on some factors. For example, women are more likely to develop hypothyroidism through Graves’ disease. Also, it can be hereditary.
- Can an overactive thyroid be fatal? An overactive thyroid can be fatal if not treated quickly. The symptoms of this condition are severe and only worsen as more hormones seep into the bloodstream. For example, heart palpitations are common in patients with hypothyroidism. Also, unexplained weight loss and a loss of appetite can cause death as you lack the nutrients necessary to function.
Healthier Me Today is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment, always consult with your healthcare professional. Stay healthy!