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Hyperthyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid gland makes too much thyroid hormone. The condition is often called overactive thyroid.
The thyroid gland is an important organ of the
system. It is located at the front of the neck just above where your collarbones meet. The gland makes the hormones that control the way every cell in the body uses energy. This process is called .
Many diseases and conditions can cause hyperthyroidism, including:
Eating too much of foods that contain iodine
Inflammation (thyroiditis) of the thyroid due to viral infections, some medicines, or after pregnancy
Noncancerous growths of the thyroid gland or pituitary gland
- Some tumors of the testes or ovaries
- Taking too much thyroid hormone
- Getting medical imaging tests with contrast dye that has iodine
Common symptoms include:
Other symptoms that can occur with this disease:
- Breast development in men
- Clammy skin
- Hair loss
- High blood pressure
- Itchy or irritated eyes
- Itchy skin
- Lack of, or irregular menstrual periods in women
- Nausea and vomiting
- Protruding eyes (exophthalmos)
- Rapid, forceful, or irregular heartbeat (palpitations)
- Skin blushing or flushing
- Weakness of the hips and shoulders
Exams and Tests
The health care provider will do a physical exam. The exam may find the following:
- High systolic blood pressure (the first number in a blood pressure reading)
- Increased heart rate
- Enlarged thyroid gland
- Shaking of the hands
- Swelling or inflammation around the eyes
Blood tests are also ordered to measure your thyroid hormones TSH, T3, and T4.
You may also have blood tests to check:
Treatment depends on the cause and severity of symptoms. Hyperthyroidism is usually treated with one or more of the following:
If your thyroid is removed with surgery or destroyed with radioactive iodine, you must take thyroid hormone replacement pills for the rest of your life.
Medicines called beta-blockers may be prescribed to treat symptoms such as fast heart rate, sweating, and anxiety until the hyperthyroidism can be controlled.
Hyperthyroidism is treatable. Some of its causes may go away without treatment.
Hyperthyroidism caused by Graves disease usually gets worse over time. It has many complications, some of which are severe and affect quality of life.
Thyroid crisis (storm) is a sudden worsening of hyperthyroidism symptoms that may occur with infection or stress. Fever, decreased alertness, and abdominal pain may occur. Patients need to be treated in the hospital.
Other complications of hyperthyroidism include:
- Heart problems such as fast heart rate, abnormal heart rhythm, and heart failure
Surgery-related complications, including:
- Scarring of the neck
- Hoarseness due to nerve damage to the voice box
- Low calcium level due to damage to the parathyroid glands (located near the thyroid gland)
- Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if you have symptoms of hyperthyroidism. Go to an emergency room or call the local emergency number (such as 911) if you have:
Call your health care provider if you are being treated for hyperthyroidism and you develop symptoms of underactive thyroid, including:
- Last reviewed on 5/10/2014
- Brent Wisse, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Metabolism, Endocrinology & Nutrition, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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This page was last updated: May 4, 2015