What is hyperthyroidism?
Hyperthyroidism is a condition in which an overactive thyroid gland is producing an excessive amount of thyroid hormones that circulate in the blood. ("Hyper" means "over" in Greek).
Symptoms of hyperthyroidism
Hyperthyroidism is suggested by several signs and symptoms; however, patients with mild disease usually experience no symptoms. In patients older than 70 years, the typical signs and symptoms also may be absent. In general, the symptoms become more obvious as the degree of hyperthyroidism increases. The symptoms usually are related to an increase in the metabolic rate of the body. Common symptoms include:
- Excessive sweating
- Heat intolerance
- Increased bowel movements
- Tremor (usually fine shaking)
- Nervousness; agitation
- Rapid heart rate
- Weight loss
- Decreased concentration
- Irregular and scant menstrual flow
Diagnosis of hyperthyroidism
Hyperthyroidism can be suspected in patients with tremors, excessive sweating, smooth, velvety skin, fine hair, a rapid heart rate and an enlarged thyroid gland. There may be puffiness around the eyes and a characteristic stare due to the elevation of the upper eyelids. Advanced symptoms are easily detected, but early symptoms, especially in the elderly, may be quite inconspicuous. In all cases, a blood test is needed to confirm the diagnosis.
Surgery to partially remove the thyroid gland is a common form of treatment for hyperthyroidism. The goal is to remove the thyroid tissue that was producing the excessive thyroid hormone. Surgery is appropriate for pregnant patients and children who have major adverse reactions to antithyroid medications. It is also appropriate for patients with very large thyroid glands and in those who have symptoms stemming from compression of tissues adjacent to the thyroid, such as difficulty swallowing, hoarseness, and shortness of breath.