What is Hyperthyroidism?
Hyperthyroidism or overactive thyroid is a condition in which the thyroid gland produces thyroxine hormone in much higher quantities than is required. While Thyroxine is one of the vital hormones for the functioning of the physical and mental systems, its excess creates a havoc on our well being. Not only it over stimulates all the functions such as metabolic rate and heartbeat but also leads to excessive sensitivity in the nervous system leading to irritability, instability in mind, and weakness of muscles.
In normal operation, the small butterfly-shaped thyroid gland located at the front of our neck produces two main hormones, tri-thyroxine (T-4) and tri-iodothyronine (T-3), which control nearly every cell of the body. These help in maintaining body temperature, the rate of use of fats and carbohydrates by the body, control the heartbeat and help standardize the production of protein. The thyroid gland also produces another hormone calcitonin that helps in regulating the quantity of calcium in the blood.
In Ayurveda hyperthyroidism is considered to be an aggravation of Pitta Dosha and Vata Dosha and vitiation of Kapha Dosha. Since Pitta is the energy of metabolism, and Vata, in turn, guides the nervous and circulatory functions – we see symptoms related to excessive presence of both of these energies.
Symptoms of Hyperthyroidism
Hyperthyroidism can lead to health problems, and sometimes the doctor fails to detect the cause behind these. It can also cause so many signs and symptoms like,
- Sudden weight loss without any change in eating habits. This is usually accompanied by excessive hunger.
- Irregular heartbeats (arrhythmia) or throbbing of your heart (palpitations). Rapid heartbeat (tachycardia), more than 100 times in one minute.
- Increased appetite
- Nervousness, anxiety, and irritability
- A tremor occurs in your hands and fingers
- Changes in bowel patterns, mostly more frequent bowel movements
- Excessive sweating
- Changes in menstrual patterns
- Decrease in concentration
- Low tolerance to heat
- A swelled large thyroid gland (goiter), which may appear at the base of your neck
- Fatigue, muscle weakness, and restlessness
- Difficulty sleeping
- Skin thinning
- Hair loss
Older adults may not have any symptoms or could have subtle signs such as an increase in heart rate, heat intolerance, heavy sweating and get tired by doing ordinary activities. Additionally, medications such as beta blockers that are used to treat high blood pressure and other problems, can disguise some signs of hyperthyroidism.
In Hyperthyroidism, the thyroid gland swells into a goiter, which can be formed symmetrical or one-sided. Your eyes may appear more prominent causing exophthalmos, and it is known as Graves’ disease.
Other conditions such as atrial fibrillation occur, which is a dangerous arrhythmia, and it causes strokes and congestive heart failure.
Causes of Hyperthyroidism
Some of the primary causes hyperthyroidism are as follows.
- Excessive iodine in the body
- Tumours in the ovaries or testes
- Thyroiditis or inflammation of the thyroid, which let T4 and T3 leak out of the gland
- Formation of benign tumors in the thyroid or pituitary gland
- Intake of large amounts of tetra-iodothyronine through diet or medication
Additionally, health conditions such as Graves’ disease, Plummer’s disease (toxic multinodular goiter), toxic adenoma, and thyroiditis, can also lead to hyperthyroidism.
Graves’ disease is a hereditary condition, and it mostly occurs in women than men. This disease creates antibodies that stimulate the thyroid gland to produce more hormones.
When to visit a doctor?
If you lose weight rapidly without making any changes, or experience a rapid heartbeat, or swelling at the base of your neck, or unusual sweating or other symptoms related to hyperthyroidism, do consult a doctor. You need to describe all the changes you experienced. Additionally, don’t forget to tell about the Grave’s disease running in your family or blood relations, should it be the case.
Hyperthyroidism causes many complications: Here are some of them.
- Heart problems Heart problem is one of the most serious complications of hyperthyroidism. The problems include a rapid heart rate, congestive heart failure in which the heart fails to circulate the required amount of blood to fulfil the needs of the body and a heart rhythm disorder known as atrial fibrillation.
- Eye problems People with Graves’ disease get eye problems, for example, bulging, sensitivity to light, red or swollen eyes, and blurring or double vision and if treated then vision loss will occur.
- Brittle bones Untreated hyperthyroidism can cause osteoporosis in which the bones become weak and brittle. The excess thyroid hormone mostly obstructs with your body’s capability to add calcium into your bones.
- Red, swollen skin In a few cases, people with Graves’ disease have redness and swelling on the skin.
- Thyrotoxic crisis Due to hyperthyroidism, thyrotoxic crisis occurs. In this condition, you will have a sudden increase in symptoms like fever, rapid pulses, and even delirium.
Also read our post on Hypothyroidism here to understand the complications, causes , and symptoms of an underactive thyroid gland.