Hyperthyroidism: An Overactive Thyroid
Neha was struggling to get out of bed each morning. Firstly, she wasn’t just tired, she was seriously wiped out. Every. Single. Day. “My body started changing too,” says the 22-year-old. “My hair started falling out and I had weak nails.” Subsequently, she also started losing excess weight which added to her agony. The doctor advised her to get her blood examination done. The blood test confirmed Hyperthyroidism, a medical condition in which the thyroid gland produces excessive thyroid hormones. Read on to know all about hyperthyroidism symptoms, causes as well as treatment.
Thyroid Hormones and Hyperthyroidism
Hyperthyroidism is a hormonal disorder in which the thyroid gland secretes excess thyroid hormones. The thyroid gland is a small butterfly-shaped gland, located inside the front part of the neck, which is responsible for the production of thyroid hormones.
It produces tetraiodothyronine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3), which are the two primary hormones. These thyroid hormones are responsible for regulating a variety of important body processes including metabolism (a process by which the body converts what you eat and drink into energy) and heart rate.
Two glands in the brain—the hypothalamus and the pituitary communicate to maintain T3 and T4 balance. The hypothalamus produces Thyrotropin Releasing Hormone (TRH) that signals the pituitary to tell the thyroid gland to produce more or less of T3 and T4. This is done by either increasing or decreasing the release of a hormone called Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH).
However, when there is an excess release of TSH, it automatically signals the thyroid gland to produce more thyroid hormones (T4, T3 or both). Hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland produces too much of T4, T3 or both due to an overactive thyroid. This can occur due to a variety of factors.
Let’s have a look at the causes of hyperthyroidism.
Excess intake of iodine
The thyroid gland uses iodine to make thyroid hormones. However, excess intake of iodine-containing foods like table salt and seaweeds may increase the amount of iodine in the body. The excess iodine also triggers the thyroid gland to synthesize and secrete thyroid hormones in excess, which leads to hyperthyroidism.
Thyroiditis refers to the inflammation of the thyroid gland. It is a group of individual disorders which causes thyroidal inflammation but in different ways. For example, in the case of hyperthyroidism, thyroidal inflammation occurs due to a viral infection that causes the thyroid gland to leak stored thyroid hormones. This, as a result, leads to swelling of the neck, a condition known as goitre.
It is an autoimmune disease (a condition in which your immune system mistakenly attacks your body), which is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism. It arises from a disorder of the body’s immune system. The immune system produces antibodies that make the thyroid gland to grow and release too much thyroid hormones. These antibodies are called thyroid-stimulating immunoglobulins (TSIs). Graves’ disease is a hereditary disorder and is five times more common in women than in men.
Other causes of hyperthyroidism may include tumours of the ovaries or testis, benign tumour of the thyroid or the pituitary gland and excess supplementation of tetraiodothyronine (present in dietary supplements and medications).
Hyperthyroidism can cause a wide range of symptoms, although it’s unlikely you’ll experience all of them. Let’s have a look at some of the hyperthyroidism symptoms.
Common Hyperthyroidism Symptoms
Surprisingly, 32% of Indians are suffering from Hyperthyroidism. Thyroid hormone plays a significant role in influencing many bodily processes including metabolism and heart rate. However, high amounts of T4, T3 or both can cause an excessively high metabolic rate and an increased heart rate.
Some major hyperthyroidism symptoms are:
- unexplained weight loss
- swelling of the neck (Goitre)
- bulging eyes
- irregular menstruation in women
- nervousness, irritability and anxiety
- difficulty in sleeping
- dry skin
- brittle hair
- frequent bowel movements
- weakness in muscles
- rapid heart rate or irregular heartbeat
Hyperthyroidism treatment usually involves treating the symptoms of the condition with medications, antithyroid drugs, radioactive iodine, and surgery. Even though diet cannot treat hyperthyroidism, it may, however, be useful in easing the symptoms of the disease. Nutrients such as iron, selenium, zinc, calcium and vitamin D should be an integral part of your hyperthyroidism diet. Additionally, make sure you eat low-iodine foods in your diet.
Thus, if you are concerned that you may have excess production of thyroid hormones in your body, you should mention your symptoms to the doctor. Lastly, remember that thyroid disease is very common and in good hands, the disease can be easily diagnosed and treated.