What is hyperthyroidism
Inside: Hyperthyroidism is a condition in which an overactive thyroid gland produces too much of the hormone thyroxine. Learn what causes hyperthyroidism, its signs and symptoms, how it's diagnosed, and potential treatments and therapies to consider.
Experiencing unexpected weight loss, feeling nervous or irritable, having a rapid heartbeat, or having fatigue may all be signs of an overactive thyroid gland, also known as hyperthyroidism.
Hyperthyroidism is caused when the thyroid gland produces too much of the hormone thyroxine, resulting in symptoms like those mentioned above.
When left untreated, hyperthyroidism can lead to serious problems with the heart and bones.
In this article, we will discuss what you should know about hyperthyroidism - causes, symptoms, treatment, and more.
What is hyperthyroidism?
Hyperthyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid gland produces an excess amount of thyroid hormones. These hormones are responsible for regulating metabolism and other important bodily functions, so when too much is produced, it can cause significant changes in the body.
Your thyroid gland produces two hormones—thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine T3)— that are essential for keeping your body in balance. When this equilibrium is out of sync, like when there's too much T4, it can impact many aspects of your health. That’s why recognizing the warning signs and correcting any imbalances quickly is key to leading a healthy life!
What causes hyperthyroidism?
Hyperthyroidism is mostly not a stand-alone condition, but it does have some underlying causes. Here are a few:
This is an autoimmune disorder where the body's immune system mistakenly attacks the thyroid gland and causes it to produce too many of these hormones.
While the trigger for Graves is often unknown, it may be related to stress, hormonal changes, or a family history of the condition.
Toxic nodular goiter
This is a condition in which the thyroid gland enlarges and produces too many hormones. When lumps (or nodules) form on the gland, they can cause it to become overactive and release too much of these hormones into the body.
This is an inflammation of the thyroid that can cause it to release too much of the hormone thyroxine into the bloodstream. An infection or virus may trigger this condition.
Increased Iodine Intake
Iodine is an essential nutrient for the thyroid, but when too much is consumed, it can cause it to become overactive. So, taking high-dose iodine supplements or eating a lot of foods rich in nutrients can trigger hyperthyroidism.
Certain medications can also increase the risk of developing this condition. For example, some drugs used to treat depression or high blood pressure may affect how the thyroid functions and cause it to become overactive.
Symptoms of hyperthyroidism
Hyperthyroidism is characterized by a range of symptoms, the most common being:
Unexpected weight loss
With increases in thyroid hormones, the body may burn more calories than usual, leading to weight loss.
Muscle weakness and fatigue
Too much thyroxine can lead to muscle aches, tiredness, and lack of energy.
Rapid heartbeat (tachycardia)
Thyroid hormones affect your heart directly. When too much is released, it can cause an irregular or rapid heartbeat. Heart palpitations may also be felt.
Anxiety and irritability
The overproduction of hormones can lead to feelings of nervousness and restlessness. With too much thyroxine, it may be harder to concentrate and focus.
When you have hyperthyroidism, your nervous system is overstimulated, making it hard to relax and fall asleep. Night sweats, insomnia, and restlessness are common signs.
The combination of overactive thyroid and weaker muscles can cause difficulty in breathing, as well as an increase in coughing. Pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) is also a risk when the condition isn't treated.
Improper Bowel Movements
When hormones are out of balance, it can affect your digestive system and create uncomfortable symptoms such as diarrhea or constipation.
A person with hyperthyroidism may find that they are more sensitive to heat, feeling hot and sweaty even when temperatures aren’t high.
Nervousness or tremors
The excess release of hormones can cause trembling and shaking in the hands, as well as feelings of nervousness.
How Is It Diagnosed?
Diagnosing hyperthyroidism can be difficult due to the range of symptoms and the fact that many of them are very similar to other conditions.
The most common symptom—unexpected weight loss—can easily be mistaken for an unrelated issue such as an eating disorder or depression. Additionally, since many of the signs are associated with stress or simply aging, it can be difficult to connect them all to an overactive thyroid.
Diagnosis is the most important part of the Functional Medicine approach because this stage will help identify the root cause of the problem.
To diagnose the condition, your functional medicine doctor will
- Ask about your medical history
- Analyze your symptoms
- Conduct a physical examination
- Order blood tests and scans to confirm a diagnosis of hyperthyroidism
The most commonly ordered lab test may include a thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) test which measures how much T4 and T3 are in the blood. Other tests may include free thyroxine levels and radioactive iodine uptake (RAIU) scans.
Treatment for hyperthyroidism
The treatment for hyperthyroidism depends on the underlying cause and severity of the condition.
Common conventional treatments include medication to suppress hormone production, radioactive iodine therapy to destroy part of the thyroid gland, and surgery to remove part or all of the thyroid gland.
Alternatively, Functional Medicine treatment for Hyperthyroidism focuses on reducing symptoms while supporting your organs and hormones for a lasting recovery. Depending on the severity of the condition, some patients may need additional conventional treatments or medications for symptom relief.
Functional Medicine treatment approach includes:
Emphasizing lifestyle changes
For mild or moderate cases, lifestyle adjustments such as stress reduction, regular exercise, and a healthy diet can help to manage symptoms. Lifestyle is important because it can help to reduce inflammation and support organ function.
Specific supplements may be recommended to help restore hormonal balance, such as vitamin B12 or selenium. Additionally, natural herbs such as ashwagandha or holy basil may be used to reduce hyperthyroidism symptoms.
The body naturally removes harmful toxins and substances through the liver, kidneys, and other organs. However, when these systems are overworked due to hyperthyroidism, they can become overwhelmed and need extra support for proper detoxification.
In severe cases, medications such as beta-blockers and antithyroid drugs may be necessary to reduce symptoms and manage the condition.
Your Functional Medicine doctor will discuss your medication options based on your individual needs.
In some cases, surgery may be needed to remove part or all of the thyroid gland. This is usually a last resort and is only used in extreme cases where other treatments are unsuccessful.
Hyperthyroidism can affect you both physically and emotionally, but proper treatment from Functional Medicine healthcare helps to restore balance in the body by addressing all aspects of your health, from lifestyle choices to underlying conditions. By using a holistic approach, you can find lasting relief from hyperthyroidism and restore your body’s natural balance.
Hyperthyroidism is a condition where the thyroid produces too much hormone, leading to symptoms like fatigue and rapid heartbeat – but it doesn’t have to be unmanageable!
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms or suspect that you might have hyperthyroidism, consult with your healthcare provider for advice on how best to proceed with treatment.