Hyperthyroidism is overactivity of the thyroid gland. Other names for this disorder are thyrotoxicosis, toxic goiter or Grave’s disease – depending on the cause of the disorder.
A hormone, secreted by pituitary gland, operates the activity of thyroid hormone. In hyperthyroidism, there is a disturbance in the control mechanism, and the thyroid gland becomes overactive and constantly creates large amounts of its own hormone – thyroxine. Sometimes the whole gland is overactive, while in some other cases the source of disorder is a nodule in thyroid gland. Increased amounts of thyroxine generally accelerate all chemical reactions in the body, which affects the mental and physical processes.
Accelerating of mental processes leads to restlessness, anxiety, and fatigue, even though the patient can not relax nor sleep. He feels insecure, his hands may be shaking, particularly in activities such as writing.
If you have hyperthyroidism, you will not pay attention to cold weather, and you will feel comfortable in summer clothes even on cold days. You will sweat often and probably argue with the others due to excessive heating.
Your heart will begin to pound faster, perhaps irregularly, even when you are trying to relax. That is why you sometimes feel a flutter or tension, heartbeat (palpitations) in the chest. You may be out of breath, and due to the accelerated contraction of intestinal muscles you will get diarrhea.
Since the acceleration of the process in the body requires more energy, you will eat more, although you will lose weight. The muscles will dissipate and you will weaken so much that you will barely be able to walk or lift your hands above the head. There may be partial or complete absence of menstruation in women. Some people may have the swelling at the front of the neck (goiter – increased thyroid gland).
The last group of symptoms are related to eyes. Problems with eyes do not occur in all people who are suffering from hyperthyroidism, and are serious in only a small number of people. The patient feels discomfort, as if got sand in his eyes; eyes may be bulging and protruding, and therefore appears double or blurred vision and, in some cases, redness or puffiness of the eyelids.
Hyperthyroidism is a rare disease; only 1 adult from 3000 gets sick from it annually. It can develop at any age, but is very rare in children. For reasons unknown, the disease is about five times more common in women.
Dangers of hyperthyroidism are as varied as the symptoms. While some people completely recover, recurrent seizures are possible in other. In some cases, the disease can be fatal if not treated.
Most vulnerable are elderly people who already have high blood pressure or arteriosclerosis. Untreated hyperthyroidism strains the heart and blood circulation, which can easily cause atrial flutter, angina pectoris or congestive heart failure.
What to do?
Some symptoms of hyperthyroidism may be similar to the symptoms of some psychological disorders, such as anxiety. Therefore, if you notice these symptoms, be sure to consult a doctor and mention that you think that you suffer from hyperthyroidism. The doctor will examine you and possibly take a blood sample for analysis, which will show a possible elevated levels of thyroxine. If the diagnosis confirms the existence of hyperthyroidism, you will be referred to a specialist who will probably send you to thyroid scintigraphy. It will determine whether the whole thyroid gland is overactive or just a nodule.
The specialist will talk to you about various aspects of treatment. Hyperthyroidism can be treated in one of three ways and, along with it, any other possible complications are also treated.
The first type of treatment, which is applied in most patients, consists of taking pills that inhibit the synthesis of hormones in the thyroid gland. In most cases, the control is achieved with medication in about eight weeks, although some patients have to take pills and up to one year. With this treatment some people fully recover, but in others (about 20 to 30% of cases) the disease re-emerges, therefore they need some other therapy.
Another form of treatment is surgical removal of the node (or nodes) in the thyroid gland, or a bigger part of the thyroid if the thyroid is generally overactive. Surgery solves the problem in about 90% of cases. In 5% of cases the disease re-emerges, and in other 5% of cases the remaining part of thyroid produces too little hormones (thyroxine).
In a third form of treatment, the patient takes radioactive iodine in a form of clear, slightly salty beverage. Iodine is one of the essential ingredients of thyroxine so, by concentrating in thyroid, it gradually destroys part of the gland.
Each of these forms provides advantages and disadvantages, and the specialist will tell you which form of treatment is best in your case. Despite numerous effects of hyperthyroidism, most patients recover from it – although treatment can last for several years. In a very small number of patients some problems are permanent, for example, problems with the parathyroid gland, hypothyroidism or problems with eyes.