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Hyperthyroidism

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When a person’s thyroid gland produces thyroid hormones in excessive amounts, this condition is known as Hyperthyroidism. When this occurs, a person will suffer from a toxic condition known as Thyrotoxicosis. Thyrotoxicosis and Hyperthyroidism are often used interchangeably by physicians to mean one and the same thing.

The body’s thyroid hormones are responsible for cell metabolism. These hormones are secreted by the thyroid gland located at the lower part of a person’s neck. The thyroid gland surrounds the trachea, or windpipe, and appears similar in appearance to a butterfly. The thyroid gland’s job is to filter iodine from the bloodstream and utilize this substance to generate thyroid hormones. Of all these hormones, thyroxine and triiodothyronine are considered the most important. They actively affect cell metabolism in the body.

HYPERTHYROIDISM SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

The thyroid gland is controlled by the brain’s pituitary gland and hypothalamus, and the pituitary gland, in turn, is regulated by thyroid hormones in the bloodstream. This cycle is called the feedback effect.

When there is too much activity involving the thyroid gland, the hypothalamus, and the pituitary gland, the result is a release of excessive amounts of thyroid hormones. This condition causes Hyperthyroidism.

Hyperthyroidism is manifested by a number of symptoms. Patients with a mild form of the disease usually do not exhibit any symptoms. The same is true with patients above the age of 70. Symptoms become apparent as the severity of the disease increases, starting with a marked increase of the body’s metabolic rate.

A person who suffers from Hyperthyroidism will show intolerance to heat, excessive sweating, smooth velvety skin, puffy eyelids, and an increase in bowel movements. Extremities, such as the hands and feet will be subject to fine tremors, and the patient will have a rapid heartbeat as well as an enlarged thyroid gland.

Weight loss is another symptom of Hyperthyroidism, and this is usually accompanied by general fatigue and a decrease in mental alertness or concentration. Women who have the disease will also experience irregular or spotty menstrual flow.

Older patients who have an advanced degree of Hyperthyroidism will experience arrhythmias, or irregular heart rhythms. In some cases, this symptom may lead to heart failure. If left untreated, Hyperthyroidism may progress in severity until it results in what is known as a “thyroid storm”. This condition will manifest itself as a combination of fever, high blood pressure, confusion, delirium, and finally, heart failure.

HYPERTHYROIDISM RISK FACTOR

Hyperthyroidism is caused by many factors. One of the most common is Grave’s disease. This ailment is characterized by excessive activity on the part of the thyroid gland. People suffering from Grave’s disease have thyroid glands that have ceased to respond to their pituitary glands. Grave’s disease is considered a hereditary and autoimmune ailment that afflicts more women than men. Smoking, stress, certain medications, radiation treatment to the neck, and exposure to certain viruses usually trigger it.
hyperthyroidism
Image: hyperthyroidism

HYPERTHYROIDISM CAUSES

Hyperthyroidism can also be caused by either a functioning adenoma or a toxic multinodular goiter. When a person grows older, many areas of they body, including the thyroid gland, have a tendency to become lumpier. Some thyroid gland lumps may become independent of its origin, and form a nodule. This nodule may start producing thyroid hormones by itself, and when it does, it is called a functioning adenoma. When there is more than one functioning adenoma, toxicity enters into the equation, and these nodules become known as toxic multinodular goiters.

When a person takes an excessive amount of thyroid hormone medicine, this can also cause Hyperthyroidism. Some patients are known to abuse their thyroid medication in the hopes of losing weight. One other cause of Hyperthyroidism is when the pituitary glands develop a tumor that secretes high levels of the thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). This may signal the thyroid gland to produce massive amounts of thyroid hormones, as well.

When the thyroid becomes inflamed, particularly after a viral illness, a condition known as thyroiditis occurs. Tender to the touch and painful, the thyroid gland starts to “leak” thyroid hormones into the bloodstream. Another cause of Hyperthyroidism is an excess of iodine in the system, especially if this excess occurs in people who already suffer from an underlying thyroid ailment. Iodine can be derived from seafood, as well as the drug amiodarone, which is used for the treatment of certain heart conditions.

HYPERTHYROIDISM DIAGNOSIS

The doctor will take down the patient’s complete medical history, and subject the patient to a thorough physical examination. The doctor will also check for particular symptoms of Hypothyroidism, such as excessive sweating, tremors, rapid heart rate, puffy eyelids, and an enlarged thyroid gland.

Other diagnostic tests include a blood TSH level test to determine the elevated levels of thyroid hormones in the bloodstream. The doctor will also screen for Graves’ disease using an antibody screening and a thyroid scan.

HYPERTHYROIDISM TREATMENT

There are many modes of treatment used for Hypothyroidism. One is to treat the symptoms of the disease itself. There are a number of medications available to treat these symptoms, like beta-blockers for rapid heart rates. The doctor will prescribe medications to treat Hypothyroidism symptoms on a case-to-case basis depending on a number of factors, such as age, accompanying illnesses, and the size of the patient’s thyroid glands.

Another treatment option is the administration of anti-thyroid medications. Methimazole and propylthiouracil are two of the drugs currently in use for treatment of the disease. They accumulate within the thyroid gland itself and act by blocking the secretion of thyroid hormones. Long-term use of anti-thyroid medications are particularly useful for patients suffering from Graves’ disease, although side effects of the drugs, such as infections, fever, and sore throat should be reported to the doctor immediately.


Another treatment option, radioactive iodine therapy involves an oral intake of the medication in liquid or pill form. This radioactive medication is given only once to ablate a hyperactive thyroid gland. This form of treatment is administered after subjecting the patient to an iodine scan to determine the presence of Hyperthyroidism. It is especially effective for patients suffering from recurrent Graves’ disease compounded by a heart condition.

Surgery is the option of the last resort for some of the more severe stages of Hyperthyroidism. This procedure involves the partial removal of the thyroid gland, particularly any part of the gland tissue responsible for secreting massive amounts of the thyroid hormone. After the surgery, the patient will begin thyroid replacement therapy to compensate for the loss of thyroid producing tissue.
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