Hyperthyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid gland is overactive and makes too much thyroid hormone. The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in the front of your neck; it releases hormones that control your metabolism (the way your body uses energy), heart rate, breathing, weight, body temperature and other body processes.
There are several types of hyperthyroidism. The most common is Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disorder. Hyperthyroidism may also be caused by lumps or nodules in the thyroid gland, inflammation of the thyroid gland (thyroiditis), or from consuming too much iodine through food, supplements or medications. In addition, some women develop hyperthyroidism during pregnancy or in the months after giving birth.
When you have hyperthyroidism, your body’s processes speed up. As a result, you may experience such symptoms as nervousness, rapid heartbeat, hand tremor, weight loss and sleep problems.
About 1.2% of people in the United States have hyperthyroidism, or roughly 1 person out of 100. Women are up to 10 times more likely than men to develop this condition.
Treatment is highly individualized and may involve medication, radioactive iodine therapy or surgery.
Left undiagnosed or untreated, hyperthyroid disease can put you at risk for serious conditions such as cardiovascular (heart) diseases, osteoporosis (brittle bones) and infertility.
Graves’ disease can be confused with other medical conditions and be challenging to diagnose, so it’s important to see an endocrinology specialist for a timely, accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
Why Choose Cooper to Diagnose and Treat Hyperthyroidism
With 10 board-certified endocrinologists, Cooper is home to South Jersey’s largest and most comprehensive team of hyperthyroidism experts. They also serve as faculty at Cooper Medical School at Rowan University—testament to the high level of advanced expertise available here. Count on us for:
- The latest knowledge about hyperthyroidism treatments, including radioactive iodine therapy, medications and surgery
- A multidisciplinary team approach to care—Because hyperthyroidism can affect different body systems, including the eyes, heart and skin, effective care can require many specialists. As an academic health system, Cooper has experts in more than 75 specialties, giving you streamlined access to all the expertise you need, all in one place.
Hyperthyroidism Causes and Risk Factors
Hyperthyroidism has several causes:
- Graves’ disease: An autoimmune disease that is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism
- Thyroid nodules: Lumps or growths in the thyroid gland that cause the thyroid to produce excessive amounts of thyroid hormones
- Thyroiditis: Inflammation of the thyroid gland due to a virus or problem with the immune system
- Consuming too much iodine: Taking iodine supplements, eating large amounts of food containing iodine (like kelp), or using medicines that contain iodine (such as a heart medicine called amiodarone) may cause the thyroid to overproduce hormones
- Pregnancy: Some women develop hyperthyroidism when they are pregnant or in the first year after giving birth
Risk factors for developing hyperthyroidism include:
- Gender: Women are 2 to 10 times more likely than men to develop this condition
- Age: People over age 60, especially women, are at greater risk
- Family history: If you have a family member with hyperthyroidism, you are more likely to develop this condition
- Having other health problems: Conditions such as pernicious anemia (related to vitamin B12 deficiency), type 1 diabetes and primary adrenal insufficiency (a hormonal disorder) increase the risk of developing hyperthyroidism
Symptoms of Hyperthyroidism
The most common symptoms of hyperthyroidism include:
- Appetite changes (increased or decreased appetite)
- Fine, brittle and thinning hair
- Frequent bowel movements, diarrhea
- Heart palpitations (fast or irregular heartbeat)
- High blood pressure
- Insomnia (difficulty sleeping)
- Intolerance to heat, increased sweating
- Menstrual irregularities, problems getting pregnant
- Mental confusion
- Muscle weakness, especially in upper arms and thighs
- Shortness of breath
- Skin problems, including thinning, itching and hives
- Vision changes, sensitivity to light
- Weight loss
If your hyperthyroidism is caused by Graves’ disease, you may also experience bulging eyes and/or a goiter (a swelling in the front of the neck due to an enlarged thyroid gland).
Treating hyperthyroidism is highly individualized for each patient, and aims to maintain normal levels of thyroid hormone. In addition to frequent monitoring of thyroid levels in the blood, treatment may include:
- Radioactive iodine (RAI) therapy: This is given in a pill or water-based solution that you swallow. It works by destroying thyroid tissue cells, which reduces your thyroid hormone levels and symptoms over weeks or months. Usually only one dose is needed. Many patients eventually develop hypothyroidism (too little thyroid hormone), so you will be given synthetic thyroid pills to achieve the right balance. RAI cannot be used if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
- Anti-thyroid medications: These prescription oral medications help prevent the thyroid from producing hormones by interfering with the gland’s use of iodine (which it needs for hormone production). These drugs may also be used before or after RAI as a supplemental treatment.
- Surgery: Surgery to remove a portion or all of your thyroid gland is also an option for treating hyperthyroidism. You will probably have to take synthetic thyroid hormone pills to supply your body with the appropriate level of hormones after surgery.