Published December 13, 2011
Approximately 1 percent of the U.S. population has hyperthyroidism, as reported by the American Thyroid Association. This condition can cause symptoms that disrupt daily life, but it can generally be cured. Here is a guide to understanding the basics of hyperthyroidism:
The human body is amazingly resilient, but it is also very finely tuned. The endocrine system regulates the body’s hormones, performing a continuous balancing act to keep everything running. Proper hormone balance lies at the basis of most vital functions, including body temperature, oxygen use and hunger. The thyroid is an important part of the endocrine system. The small, butterfly-shaped organ produces hormones that control metabolism. When it is not performing properly, the body’s functions are significantly disrupted. Hyperthyroidism occurs when the gland produces too much of the thyroid hormones. More women than men are likely to have an overactive thyroid, and the condition is easily diagnosed. The American Thyroid Association recommends that all adults age 35 and over, particularly women, receive a blood test every five years to monitor thyroid levels.
Because the thyroid gland is fundamental to many basic body functions, hyperthyroidism can cause a wide variety of behavioral, cognitive and physical symptoms. Emotional or behavioral symptoms can include nervousness, anxiety, insomnia and irritability. Cognitive symptoms, marked by problems with brain function, may appear as difficulty concentrating or heat intolerance. Physical symptoms are the most visible, and they include: frequent bowel movements, increased sweating, brittle hair, weight loss and muscle weakness.
Pinpointing the cause of hyperthyroidism is an important part of its diagnosis and treatment, as each case of hyperthyroidism may be treated differently. The most common cause is Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disorder marked by inflammation of the eyes. People with Graves’ disease have a dysfunctional immune system that mistakenly attacks thyroid cells. The American Thyroid Association says physicians believe severe emotional trauma may cause Graves’ disease in some people. Less common causes for hyperthyroidism include an overdose of iodine, thyroid gland inflammation and lumps or benign tumors in the thyroid or pituitary gland. Some people with thyroid disorders may have hypothyroidism, in which the body is not producing enough thyroid hormones. Some treatments for hypothyroidism entail a thyroid hormone in tablet form, and an excess amount could result in hyperthyroidism.
Hyperthyroidism can usually be cured safely and effectively. The appropriate therapy depends on the cause and severity of the disorder. A treatment regimen can include radioactive iodine, anti-thyroid medication or surgery. Beta-blockers are sometimes used to treat the symptoms, although they do not offer a long-term solution. Radioactive iodine is the most common cure for hyperthyroidism in America. Radioiodine is an element taken through the mouth, and it goes on to destroy overactive thyroid cells. The body eventually expels the unused radioiodine on its own. Anti-thyroid medication blocks the thyroid gland from producing new hormones without causing any damage to the endocrine system. If drug-based intervention is unsuccessful, the thyroid gland may be surgically removed. Once the thyroid has been removed, the individual will have to take thyroid hormone replacement pills for the rest of his or her life.