Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid gland)

 

Hyperthyroidism is one of the most common diseases of the thyroid gland (see also hypothyroidism) and requires medication in many cases. The widespread disease is caused by an over-supply of the body with the hormones produced in the organ.

The thyroid gland is located in the larynx and has the task of converting protein and iodine ingested through food into the vital hormones thyroxine and triiodothyronine.

These hormones are not only responsible for a regulated metabolism, but also have a direct influence on the heart and circulation.

3D Abbildung von normaler Schilddrüse und vergrößerter Schilddrüse

3D image swollen thyroid gland

With hyperthyroidism, hormones are produced at an uncontrolled rate that the body can no longer process. The metabolism practically runs at full speed and causes numerous complaints, such as restlessness, sleep disorders or an increased pulse.

The most common causes of hyperthyroidism are the autoimmune disease Graves’ disease and autonomic thyroid disease, which is particularly common in our regional iodine deficient areas.

 

Hyperthyroidism – what symptoms to look out for?

 

The signs of hyperthyroidism can vary greatly depending on age. While some symptoms develop slowly, there can often be abrupt symptoms that intermittently disturb your physical well-being.

The complaints can manifest themselves in different ways in individual cases and occur in different forms depending on age and gender. The increased hormone concentration increases the metabolism, which puts a strain on the heart and circulation.

 

The most common signs of hyperthyroidism:

 

  • Sleep disorders
  • Hair loss
  • Weight loss despite increased food intake
  • trembling of the hands
  • restlessness and nervousness
  • female sufferers may experience disturbances in their menstrual cycle
  • Muscle pain or weakness
  • Sudden sweating
  • Lack of concentration
  • Hot flushes
  • Enlargement of the thyroid gland (formation of a so-called goitre or struma)
  • Increased body temperature
  • vomiting and diarrhoea
  • Sensitivity to heat
  • Increased pulse rate
  • Eye diseases

 

Hyperthyroidism in children

 

Hyperthyroidism in children can be congenital or develop during the first years of life. Hyperthyroidism manifests itself in different ways in children, depending on their age.

While smaller children suffer from disturbances in growth, tooth formation and frequent tantrums, adolescents mainly suffer from severe mood swings, weight loss or pain in the musculoskeletal system during growth spurts.

 

Hyperthyroidism during pregnancy

 

Pregnancy is very demanding on the female thyroid gland. An increased demand for hormones as well as the increased function of the organ can lead to disorders during or shortly after pregnancy, which can have serious consequences not only for the expectant mother but also for the unborn child.

Untreated hyperthyroidism during pregnancy can disrupt the physical and mental development of the child in the womb and in the first years of life after birth.

A clear diagnosis is only possible even for the attending doctor by checking the thyroid values, since symptoms of an overactive thyroid, such as tiredness, sleep disturbances or nervousness, are part of everyday life even in pregnant women who are not ill.

Anatomie der Schilddrüse

 

Treatment methods for hyperthyroidism

 

Treatment for diagnosed hyperthyroidism varies depending on the severity and cause of the condition and should only be carried out by a specialist.

If signs of a disturbed thyroid function become increasingly noticeable, you should immediately contact your general practitioner or specialist, who will first determine the thyroid values by taking a blood sample and, if necessary, carry out a test for hyperthyroidism.

Special antibody tests and an ultrasound examination can be used to determine the cause of the hyperthyroidism and to locate any nodules that may be present.

 

Drug treatment

 

In most cases, the disease can be successfully treated with thyrostatic drugs, the so-called “thyroid blockers”. Patients suffering from Graves’ disease may report relief of symptoms or a complete cure after only some time of taking the tablet used to treat hyperthyroidism.

However, if autonomy was identified as the cause of the hyperthyroidism at the time of diagnosis, treatment in tablet form does not make sense, as the clinical picture worsens again after discontinuation of the medication and a complete cure is not possible. In these cases, the specialist usually advises surgical intervention.

 

Treatment with radioactive iodine

 

Radioactive iodine therapy is used when a previous drug treatment with thyrostatic drugs could not be carried out successfully, or does not seem to make sense due to autonomy. In this treatment method, radioactive iodine is administered to the patient in an isolated ward by means of an injection into the vein or orally in tablet form.

The excess thyroid tissue responsible for the hyperfunction absorbs most of the iodine, while the radioactive rays destroy the affected tissue cells. In this way, normal thyroid function can be restored.

 

Treatment through surgery

 

Surgery to treat hyperthyroidism is done when the disease is severe and taking medication or radioactive iodine has been unsuccessful.

 

What are the possible consequences of untreated hyperthyroidism?

 

Hyperthyroidism that is not recognised and treated over a longer period of time can cause serious health disorders and may be life-threatening.

The increased metabolism demands a lot of energy from the body, weakens the heart in the long run and can cause secondary diseases of the adrenal glands as well as osteoporosis. In the acute stage, a thyrotoxic crisis can occur, which in the worst case can lead to death.

 

What kind of diet should one pay attention to with hyperthyroidism?

 

A balanced diet with iodine-containing foods plays an important role in patients suffering from hyperthyroidism. Adults and adolescents need about 200 micrograms of iodine daily to keep a regular metabolism going. Pregnant women and nursing mothers have a higher iodine requirement and in some cases have to take additional natural iodine supplements.

Hyperthyroidism can be caused by a permanent iodine deficiency and often requires appropriate treatment. This makes it all the more important to eat a diet rich in iodine. However, seasoning with iodine salt is not enough and must be supported by the consumption of other iodine-containing foods, such as sea fish, seafood or dairy products.

 

To the thyroid dysfunction overview