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Hyperthyroidism: Overactive Thyroid Causes, Symptoms, and Prevention

What is Hypothyroidism?

Hyperthyroidism (a.k.a: Overactive Thyroid) is a disorder that affects the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland is located, on the neck region in the front. Hyperthyroidism is a widespread disease, and it occurs more in women when compared to men. About, 60% of the population in the world has an diagnosed thyroid problem.


The thyroid gland produces the hormones T3 and T4, which controls the activity of cells in the body (this is also known as metabolism). The pituitary gland located in the brain controls the thyroid gland. This pituitary gland produces the Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) which in turn, provokes the thyroid gland to produce T3 and T4 hormones. Overproduction of T3 or T4 hormones leads to hyperthyroidism.

Causes of Hyperthyroidism:

Many factors are responsible for hyperthyroidism. Hyperthyroidism can be hereditary also. Some of the causes of hyperthyroidism include:

  • Grave’s disease or an auto-immune disorder
  • The tumor of the thyroid or the pituitary gland
  • Excess iodine (through food or medications)
  • During pregnancy (Gestational hyperthyroidism) or post delivery (within the first year)
  • The tumour of the ovaries or the testes
  • Post-hysterectomy (Hormonal changes)

Risk Factors of Hyperthyroidism:

The risk factors that may lead to hyperthyroidism are listed below. Some of them are:

  • A family history of thyroid disorder
  • Stress
  • Past medical history of thyroid surgery (Thyroidectomy) or Goiter
  • Radiation exposure (during cancer treatment)
  • Anaemia

Signs and Symptoms of Hyperthyroidism:

Symptoms of hyperthyroidism vary between individuals and also depend on factors like age, gender and lifestyle of an individual.

Some of the common symptoms are:

  • Skin dryness
  • General tiredness
  • Muscle weakness
  • Loss of weight
  • Palpitations or tremors
  • Loss of hair
  • Lethargic in the early mornings
  • Profuse sweating
  • Anxiety
  • Menstrual irregularities or infertility

Symptoms that need Immediate Medical Attention: (Red Flags)

  • Fast or irregular heart rate
  • Frequent dizziness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Diarrhoea (increased frequency of bowel movements).

Diagnosis of Hyperthyroidism:

It is very crucial for a person to undergo the diagnostic tests as most of the cases of the thyroid are undiagnosed.  Initial diagnosis of the patient starts with the physical examination by the physician, to look for any noticeable swelling around the neck. The next level of investigation includes the collection of blood samples, and is performed by a lab technician; it is performed to check for the levels of T3, T4 and TSH hormones.

In cases with abnormal thyroid hormone levels, an ultrasound scan is advised, to check for the structure of the thyroid gland and also for any nodule formations on the organ. In some cases, blood samples are collected to test for the cholesterol levels.  Lower cholesterol levels could be due to high metabolic rate. Depending on the severity of the condition, the physician suggests the patient, for a Computed Tomography scan (CT scan) or Magnetic Resonance Imaging scan (MRI scan).

Thyroid Iodine Uptake Test:-

During this test procedure, the lab technician will give radioactive iodine to the patient in the form a tablet. As this iodine, enters the patient’s body, it gets collected in the thyroid gland. A scan is performed after some time to check for the thyroid function. If the iodine uptake is high, it implies that the thyroid is overactive. This test is performed; only in patient’s whose blood specimens show very high values. As with any other radiation exposure, this exposure will also have some side effects on the patient’s body.

Treatment of Hyperthyroidism:

Many options are available for the treatment of hyperthyroidism. The method of treatment depends upon, the age of the person affected, his existing health conditions and the causes of the disorder.

Goals of the Treatment are:

  • To reduce the disease growth further
  • To correct the metabolic activity
  • To maintain the hormonal balance
  • To reduce the physical symptoms like dryness of skin and hair loss
  • To make the patient active both physically and mentally

Medical Management:

Anti-thyroid drugs such as methimazole or tapazole act on the thyroid gland and stop it from producing excessive thyroid hormones. These drugs also have side effects like fever or skin rashes and long-term use of these drugs also affects the liver function. Dosage of medicines is altered, according to the T3 and T4 values obtained from the regular blood tests.

Radio-active Management:

In this method of treatment, a radioactive iodine tablet is given to the patient, and this ingested tablet works up on the overly acting thyroid gland, and damages the extra cells. On removal of the extra cells, the thyroid gland shrinks in size and starts functioning normally.

Surgical Management:

It is done in severe cases or with patients having tumour related conditions.

Thyroidectomy: Thyroid gland is removed either entirely or partially based on the progression of the disorder. On removal of the thyroid gland, the hormonal imbalances are needed to be balanced with hormonal supplements. This procedure is performed, only in critical cases where repeated growth of cancerous cells is suspected.

Prevention and Care of Hyperthyroidism:

Like any other disease, even hyperthyroidism can be prevented by routine health check-up and by lifestyle modifications. The modifications include:

  • Adapt to a stress-free lifestyle.
  • Eat a healthy diet, with food rich in iodine.
  • Avoid excessive fat intake.
  • Eat protein rich foods such as eggs, walnuts and leafy vegetables like broccoli.
  • Take multi-vitamin supplements after the age of 40 years.
  • Adapt to a regular fitness or exercise program.
  • Go for regular health check-ups after the age of 30 years.
  • Go for a weight loss program, if you have obesity.
  • Take proper anti-thyroid drug dosage modification.
  • Take thyroid medication at the same time daily.

Hyperthyroidism is a metabolic disorder and is not hazardous. Regular dosage of medication or surgery can treat the disease.  Diagnosis and regular health check-ups play a very significant role in managing hyperthyroidism.



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