What is Hyperthyroidism?
Hyperthyroidism is often referred to as an overactive thyroid and is a disorder of the thyroid, a small gland located just below the Adam’s Apple.
This gland influences many of your bodily functions, such as physical growth and development, puberty, metabolism, organ function, fertility and body temperature. Just how well the thyroid regulates these functions depends on the production of two specific hormones, called T3 and T4.
The thyroid works in conjunction with the pituitary gland in the brain. When the level of thyroid hormones drops too low, the gland in the brain produces Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) which tells the thyroid gland to produce more hormones.
However, when the thyroid gland produces too much of these hormones, our bodies use energy faster than they should. And because the thyroid controls vital systems such as metabolism and body temperature, an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) will affect the body, causing a variety of related symptoms.
A sample of blood is the best screening method of testing for hyperthyroidism. Your health care professional will want to test the levels of T4 and T3 (the thyroid hormones) as well as the levels of TSH in your blood.
These blood tests will provide an accurate picture of how the thyroid is functioning. If the doctor feels further tests are necessary they may give a radioactive iodine uptake test. The type of radioactive iodine used for the test will not harm the thyroid or pose any risk. After 24 hours special equipment is then used to measure the amount of radioactivity over the thyroid gland.
Symptoms of Hyperthyroidism
Hyperthyroidism symptoms vary and may include the following:
What Causes Hyperthyroidism?
The most common causes of hyperthyroidism include:
Graves’ disease - Caused when the body's natural immune system attacks the thyroid gland. The thyroid fights back by making too much thyroid hormone.
Thyroid nodules - The thyroid may sometimes develop lumps and cysts called nodules. These nodules can secrete too much thyroid hormone. Most nodules are generally harmless but if you feel a lump it is best to have it checked by a health professional.
Thyroiditis - Caused by inflammation of the thyroid gland, this condition can also lead to the release of excess amounts of thyroid hormones.
Excessive iodine intake - Too much iodine in the diet, certain iodine medications and some cough syrups may cause the thyroid to produce either too much or too little hormone in some individuals. However, the human system can tolerate relatively large doses of iodine and hyperthyroidism as a response to excess iodine in the diet is very rare.
Eating Disorders (e.g. Bulimia) - The thyroid gland can change its regular behavior as a result of decreased nutrition from eating disorders.
Help for Hyperthyroidism
Thyroid disorders are very common, and with appropriate treatment, troublesome hyperthyroidism symptoms can be alleviated, balanced and treated. There are a number of treatment options for hyperthyroidism and because everyone is different, it is important to explore the options that work for you.
There are various treatments available for hyperthyroidism. The aim of these treatments is to decrease the amount of thyroid hormone made by the thyroid gland so that excess amounts do not get into the bloodstream.
The most common conventional treatments include radioactive iodine, betablockers, anti-thyroid medications and surgery (thyroidectomy).
Alternative treatments offer a wide variety of methods to help maintain balance in the body, for example homeopathy, acupuncture, physical medicine and massage. They have been used for centuries, and now more than ever before, the Western community is embracing this holistic approach of healthcare.
This holistic approach addresses not only the symptoms of hyperthyroidism, but they address the root cause and underlying problems and can help provide all-round support and natural health.
There are a number of herbal and homeopathic ingredients which may be of assistance without the negative side effects of prescription drugs. Some commonly used herbs traditionally used to calm the overactive thyroid include bugleweed (Lycopus virginica), lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) and motherwort (Leonuris cardica).
Natural remedies can also be investigated as part of a broader treatment plan. It is best to discuss these options with your doctor or consult a homeopath or naturopath for advice. Also, it is important to incorporate a healthy diet, exercise, meditation and other mind-body therapies to get the maximum benefit.
Drug Therapies for Hyperthyroidism
Conventional medications for mild hyperthyroidism include anti-thyroid drugs such as methimazole (Tapazole) or propylthiouracil (PTU). For advanced hyperthyroidism, conventional methods such as radioactive iodine treatment (RAI) are commonly used.
While on these medications, you should be closely monitored due to the frequency of unwanted side effects. As an incorrect choice or dosage of drugs can cause other distressing symptoms, or even make symptoms worse, it is strongly advised that you research these drugs thoroughly and make an informed decision.
When conventional drug therapy for overactive thyroid is not successful, thyroidectomy or surgical removal of the thyroid is sometimes recommended. After this procedure, the body is no longer able to produce thyroid hormones, which then have to be supplemented by synthetic hormones or hormones of animal origin (bovine or porcine). It may be difficult to achieve the correct balance and many people suffer from symptoms of hypothyroidism after a thyroidectomy.
Recommended Diet for Hyperthyroidism
A meal plan for those with hyperthyroidism should consist of foods high in protein, B vitamins and iron such as whole grains and fresh vegetables. Add antioxidant rich foods into your diet, such as blueberries, cherries, and tomatoes, squash and bell peppers.
Foods to Avoid for Those with Hyperthyroidism
Since hyperthyroidism can be the result of too much iodine in the body, it is important to limit the intake of iodized salt, kelp, seafood, sea salt and some dairy products. Refrain from lunch meat and red meat as much as possible and avoid refined foods like white bread, pasta and sugar. Instead of using high fat cooking oils, switch to olive oil or vegetable oil. Eliminate trans fatty acids in most commercially cooked foods, these include onion ring, French fries, donuts and margarine.
Tips for Coping with Hyperthyroidism
There are always a few steps we can take to empower ourselves and manage our health. Small measures can be taken to alleviate and reduce hyperthyroidism symptoms.
- Reduce stress by listening to music, taking a long bath or meditating in a quiet place
- Avoid caffeine and other stimulants as they may worsen certain symptoms such as fast heartbeat, nervousness, or concentration difficulties
- Ice packs on the throat can help to reduce inflammation
- Certain foods can help to depress the thyroid, for instance cruciferous
vegetables (e.g. cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, brussels sprouts, spinach)
- Stay away from refined foods, shellfish, wheat, diary products and alcohol
- Avoid food and supplements containing iodine
The better we take care of our bodies, the better they will take care of us. Remember that healthy eating habits, adequate sleep and regular exercise will go a long way in sustaining good health and wellbeing!
More Information on Hyperthyroidism
Hyperthyroidism in Infants and Children
Hyperthyroidism in infants and children is very rare. Infants diagnosed with hyperthyroidism, also called neonatal Grave’s disease, usually contract the condition from the mother. Women who have been diagnosed in the past with Grave’s disease can pass along the antibodies to their unborn children, and can lead to miscarriages or premature birth.
For infants born with hyperthyroidism, complications arise such as poor weight gain, rapid heartbeat, high blood pressure, bulging eyes, diarrhea, vomiting, and difficulty breathing. Oftentimes newborns are given medication and within a few weeks their symptoms are cleared up.
Although Grave’s Disease mainly affects women above the age of 20, it can also be the cause of hyperthyroidism in adolescent children. Symptoms of hyperthyroidism in children involve restlessness and disruptive behavior at school, and are easily mistaken for something other than a thyroid condition. If the condition worsens, symptoms become more severe and include bed wetting, quickened pulse, anxiousness, heat intolerance, weight loss, rapid growth, shaking hands, muscle weakness and diarrhea.
Pregnancy and Hyperthyroidism
If you are pregnant and suspect that you may have hyperthyroidism, it is essential that you seek a professional assessment. Diagnosis and appropriate treatment is very important as hyperthyroidism in pregnancy can be dangerous for both the mother and the baby.
In some pregnant women hyperthyroidism is a pre-existing condition. However, hyperthyroidism can also develop during pregnancy. Diagnosis is usually more difficult as pregnancy can mask the symptoms. For example, fatigue and weight gain are routinely experienced with pregnancy. Blood tests for T3 and T4 may also be inaccurate during pregnancy.
The most common cause of hyperthyroidism in pregnant women is Grave’s Disease with symptoms occurring during the first half of pregnancy. In most instances, mild to moderate hyperthyroidism during pregnancy will not cause problems for mom or baby – and the pregnancy can be expected to progress normally. However, severe and chronic hyperthyroidism may cause a variety of more serious complications and a correct diagnosis and treatment is therefore vital.
It is important to ask whether certain prescription medications may be passed through the placenta to your baby, and what effect this may have on your child. While prescription medication can be effective as part of a broader treatment plan, it is not always necessary.