Banner image

Hyperthyroidism

Thyrotoxicosis; Overactive thyroid; Graves disease - hyperthyroidism; Thyroiditis - hyperthyroidism; Toxic goiter - hyperthyroidism; Thyroid nodules - hyperthyroidism; Thyroid hormone - hyperthyroidism

Find

Learn More

Causes

The thyroid gland is an important organ of the endocrine 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 metabolism.

Many diseases and conditions can cause hyperthyroidism, including:

  • Graves disease (most common cause of hyperthyroidism)
  • Inflammation (thyroiditis) of the thyroid due to viral infections, some medicines, or after pregnancy (common)
  • Taking too much thyroid hormone (common)
  • Noncancerous growths of the thyroid gland or pituitary gland (rare)
  • Some tumors of the testes or ovaries (rare)
  • Getting medical imaging tests with contrast dye that has iodine (rare, and only if there is a problem with the thyroid)
  • Eating too much of foods that contain iodine (very rare, and only if there is a problem with the thyroid)

Definition

Hyperthyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid gland makes too much thyroid hormone. The condition is often called overactive thyroid.

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
  • Very strong reflexes
  • Skin, hair, and nail changes

Blood tests are also ordered to measure your thyroid hormones TSH, T3, and T4.

You may also have blood tests to check:

Imaging tests of the thyroid may also be needed, including:

Outlook (Prognosis)

Hyperthyroidism is treatable. Some 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.

Possible Complications

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. People 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
  • Osteoporosis

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)

Symptoms

Common symptoms include:

Other symptoms that can occur with this disease:

  • Breast development in men
  • Clammy skin
  • Diarrhea
  • Feeling faint when you raise your hands
  • High blood pressure
  • Itchy or irritated eyes
  • Itchy skin
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Protruding eyes (exophthalmos)
  • Skin blushing or flushing
  • Skin rash on the shins
  • Weakness of the hips and shoulders

Treatment

Treatment depends on the cause and severity of symptoms. Hyperthyroidism is usually treated with one or more of the following:

  • Antithyroid medicines (propylthiouracil or methimazole) which reduce or block the effects of the extra thyroid hormone¬†
  • Radioactive iodine to destroy the thyroid gland and stop the excess production of hormones
  • Surgery to remove the thyroid

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, tremor, sweating, and anxiety until the hyperthyroidism can be controlled.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your provider if you have symptoms of hyperthyroidism. Go to an emergency room or call the local emergency number (such as 911) if you have:

  • Change in consciousness
  • Dizziness
  • Rapid, irregular heartbeat

Call your provider if you are being treated for hyperthyroidism and you develop symptoms of underactive thyroid, including:

  • Depression
  • Mental and physical sluggishness
  • Weight gain

Review Date: 6/14/2018
Reviewed By: Brent Wisse, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Metabolism, Endocrinology & Nutrition, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

ADAM QualityA.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (www.hon.ch).

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 9-1-1 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only—they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997-2010 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.