Dr. G - Health Column
Thyroid Diseases - Hyperthyroidism
Hyperthyroidism is caused by an overactive thyroid gland which produces excessive amounts of thyroid hormones T3 and T4. When there is an excess amount of the hormones, metabolic processes speed up, increasing nervousness, anxiety, heartbeat and sweating.
What are the common causes of hyperthyroidism?
Hyperthyroidism is caused by an autoimmune disorder called Grave’s disease. The body makes an antibody called Thyroid-Stimulating Immunoglobulin (TSI) which causes the thyroid to produce too much hormone. This disease is genetic and runs in the family and is most commonly found in women.
Hyperthyroidism can also be caused by lumps or nodules found in the thyroid gland which cause it to produce excessive thyroid hormones. These can either be toxic nodular or multinodular goitre. Inflammation of the thyroid gland, thyroiditis, can temporarily cause hyperthyroid symptoms due to a virus or issue with the immune system.
What are the symptoms?
There are many symptoms that can occur in patients with hyperthyroidism, but symptoms in patients vary depending on age, how long the body has been producing excess hormone and how much of these hormones are being produced.
• Fatigue and muscle weakness
• Mood swings
• Rapid heartbeat
• Sleeping problems
• Hand tremors
• Weight loss
• Some people can also develop a goitre (enlarged thyroid gland)
What type of treatment is available?
Treatment options depend on the severity of the condition, age of the patient and whether they are pregnant or not.
Hyperthyroidism can be treated with antithyroid medication which interferes with the production of thyroid hormones. This type of medication rarely produces any side effects. A downside to this treatment is that once a patient stops using the medication, it is likely for the hyperthyroidism state to come back. Therefore, many people are recommended to consider a treatment that permanently reverses the effects of hyperthyroidism.
Radioactive iodine therapy
This therapy is used to damage the cells which produce thyroid hormones. If a patient does not respond to this treatment or produce any side effects of the treatment, surgery may be necessary to remove either part or the whole thyroid.
Doctors can also prescribe beta-blockers which block the effects of the thyroid hormones on the body. It does not reduce levels of the thyroid hormone, but it reduces the effects of symptoms such as slowing down heart rate and reducing hand tremors.
Goitre and goitrogens
A Goitre refers to an enlarged thyroid gland. Known to be caused due to an iodine deficiency, the enlarged gland is usually seen as a swelling in the neck.
Goitrogens are substances which disrupt the production of thyroid hormones as they interfere with the uptake of iodine in the thyroid gland. Some examples of goitrogenic foods include:
Eating these foods raw and in excess trigger the pituitary gland to release Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH), promoting the growth of thyroid tissue and leading to the development of a goitre. However, cooking these can remove the goitrogenic effects.