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An overactive thyroid, also known as hyperthyroidism, is a condition in which the thyroid gland produces an overabundance of thyroid hormone. This overproduction can lead to a number of emotional and physical ailments that may masquerade as signs of other health issues. While many people think that an overactive thyroid only occurs in women, men may also experience the production of an excessive amount of thyroid hormone. In all cases, there are several forms of treatment that can bring relief.
When functioning properly, the thyroid gland produces two specific hormones: triiodothyronine or T3 and thyroxine, known as T4. Together, these hormones help to regulate many functions in the body, including digestion, heart function, and the growth process. When the thyroid becomes overactive, these hormones are released throughout the body and essentially speed up a number of functions, including the responses of the nervous system to different stimuli.
As a result, an individual with an overactive thyroid may experience a wide range of physical and emotional problems. Often events and situations that normally would cause no distress easily irritate the individual. A sudden sensitivity to even the smallest sounds may trigger panic attacks. The individual may begin to have difficulty remembering things, or suddenly have difficulty with performing routine tasks. Heart palpitations, severe changes in appetite, and extreme fatigue are not unusual symptoms. A goiter or a protrusion of the eyes are common signs of an overactive thyroid that are fairly common. Often, the overactive thyroid will also cause insomnia, which places more stress on a body that is already in overdrive.
There are many causes for an overactive thyroid. The development of Graves Disease, or an enlargement of the thyroid gland, is a malfunction of the body’s immune system which causes the production of antibodies that are used against the thyroid gland. As a result, the gland begins to enlarge and overproduce hormones. Too much iodine in the diet may lead to thyroid problems of this type. Damage to the thyroid gland through shock or trauma may lead to overproduction of hormones and begin to create health issues. There is even some evidence that an overactive thyroid may be a hereditary disease.
Fortunately, there are several ways to treat an overactive thyroid. Drug therapy is usually the first defense. Antithyroid medications help to inhibit the production of T3 and T4 and restore normal levels within the body. As the level of thyroid hormones begin to return to normal, the symptoms fade and eventually disappear altogether.
When drugs alone are not sufficient, radioactive iodine therapy is usually the next step. This involves swallowing a capsule that contains radioactive iodine. The iodine permeates through the thyroid gland and kills off a portion of the cells. As a result, the thyroid gland shrinks in size and is unable to produce excessive amounts of hormones. However, this type of therapy does not inhibit the thyroid from eventually recovering from the effects of the radioactive iodine and begin to produce high amounts of hormones at a later date.
In some cases, the only effective treatment for an overactive thyroid is to undergo surgery. Known as a thyroidectomy, this involves removing all or a portion of the thyroid gland. The entire gland is only removed if there is no way to leave a portion that is capable of producing the correct amount of hormones. When the thyroid is completely removed, hormone replacement therapy is required in order to provide appropriate levels of T3 and T4 in the body.
While an overactive thyroid can be physically and mentally debilitating, the broad range of treatments available today make it possible to correct the situation and restore a proper balance to the body. Doctors are usually able to identify the presence of an overactive thyroid with a combination of a physical examination and blood work to determine thyroid hormone levels in the body. Once a diagnosis has been confirmed, a doctor can initiate the proper treatment and provide relief to the patient.