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Graves’ disease, mentioned above – an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks the thyroid, causing it to overproduce T4. Graves’ disease is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism.
Hyperfunctioning thyroid nodules, which occur when a small piece of the thyroid malfunctions, creating small, benign (non-cancerous) nodules or lumps. These nodules pump out thyroid hormones, and do not respond to TSH levels.
Thyroiditis, or inflammation of the thyroid, which can occur after pregnancy. Thyroiditis can also be caused by an infection or virus. In thyroiditis, the inflamed thyroid begins to leak stored thyroid hormone into the bloodstream.
Excess iodine consumption. The thyroid makes thyroid hormones out of iodine. If someone consumes too much iodine, it may spur the production of excess thyroid hormone. Iodine is present in some medications, including some heart medications and cough syrups. Seaweed and seaweed supplements also contain iodine, as does table salt with added iodine.
Excess thyroid medication. People who take medication for hypothyroidism (low levels of thyroid hormone) can experience hyperthyroid symptoms if their dose of medication is too high. It’s important that if you are taking medication for hypothyroidism that you have your thyroid levels checked from time to time, as your levels – and the dose of medication that you require – can change over time.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Hyperthyroidism
Hyperthyroidism is diagnosed by a simple blood test that gauges your thyroid hormone levels. Usually, your level of T4 will be high and TSH will be low. Once your doctor has confirmed that your thyroid hormone levels are too high, they will conduct further tests to find out why. These tests involve various methods of imaging the thyroid. Tests include:
Radioiodine uptake test, in which you swallow a small amount of radioactive iodine, and your thyroid is checked at intervals over the next day to see how much collects in your thyroid gland.
If your thyroid takes up a large amount of iodine, it shows that your thyroid is overactive, suggesting either Graves’ disease or thyroid nodules. If your thyroid doesn’t absorb much of the iodine, then your thyroid isn’t in hyperdrive. Instead, the cause of your hyperthyroid symptoms might be thyroiditis, or inflammation of the thyroid, causing thyroid hormone to leak into your bloodstream.
Thyroid scan, in which a small amount of radioactive iodine is injected into your arm, and then a special camera takes pictures of your throat. This produces pictures that show your doctors exactly what is happening within your thyroid.
Thyroid ultrasound, which uses an ultrasound machine to take images of your thyroid. This test doesn’t involve any radiation, which may be important for some patients – particularly those who are or who may become pregnant in the near future.
The treatment for hyperthyroidism depends on what is causing the problem, as well as your age, health history, and preferences. Treatments include:
Radioactive iodine. Radioactive iodine will be absorbed by the thyroid gland, causing it to shrink. This treatment will help your symptoms disappear within a few months. In some cases, though, patients are left with low levels of thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism) and must take thyroid hormone pills.
While the idea of radioactive iodine may sound scary, this is a very safe treatment. Any excess radiation will disappear from your body within months. However, there are some people, including those who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant, who should not be treated with radioactive iodine. In these cases, there are other treatments.
Anti-thyroid medications. These medications can bring down your thyroid hormone levels within a few weeks or months. Some people may need to take the pills for a year or more. In many cases, one course of pills is enough to resolve hyperthyroidism, but some people may have recurring symptoms and require ongoing treatment.
Thyroid surgery. Thyroid surgery involves removing thyroid tissue. Surgery used to be common, but other treatments such as medication and radioactive iodine are safer. Still, surgery is still used in some cases where other treatments can’t be used.
The risks of surgery include damage to the vocal cords or other delicate parts of the throat. After surgery, most patients will require thyroid hormone medication for life.
Beta blockers. Beta blockers don’t cure hyperthyroidism, but they can make the symptoms resolve quickly. For that reason, they are sometimes given to patients to make them feel better while other treatments are working on solving the underlying problem.
While family doctors can diagnose and treat hyperthyroidism, sometimes they will refer patients to an endocrinologist. Endocrinologists specialize in the endocrine system and can help with conditions caused by glandular problems or hormonal imbalances.
Dietary Changes That Can Help Your Thyroid
You can’t cure hyperthyroidism by changing your diet, but some foods can help soothe symptoms. Other foods can make symptoms worse. In addition, some foods can interfere with common thyroid medications. By optimizing your diet, you can support your recovery and feel better faster.Other Details
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