Top things to know
- The thyroid gland is involved in regulating many of the body’s functions, like metabolism, growth, and body temperature
- People with hyperthyroidism produce too many thyroid hormones
- Some common symptoms of hyperthyroidism include: unexplained weight loss, hyperactivity, tremors, trouble sleeping and irregular and/or light menstrual cycles
- Hyperthyroidism is usually treated with medication, radiation, or surgery to reduce the amount of thyroid hormones produced
What is hyperthyroidism?
The thyroid gland is a small organ located in the front of the neck that produces hormones. It regulates many of the body’s functions, including metabolism, growth, heart rate, and body temperature (1).
In someone with hyperthyroidism, the thyroid gland produces too many thyroid hormones. This is different from hypothyroidism, where the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough hormones. This causes an acceleration of many of the body’s functions, and can lead to changes in the menstrual cycle (2). Hyperthyroidism affects over 1 in 100 people in the United States, and is more common among women, with the prevalence increasing as people age (3).
Symptoms: What you might notice if you have hyperthyroidism
Hyperthyroidism has a wide range of symptoms, which can appear suddenly. Common symptoms of hyperthyroidism include:
- Sudden or unexplained weight loss
- Feeling nervous, irritable, and anxious
- Increased sweating
- Increased heart rate
- Trouble sleeping
- Feeling tired
- Frequent bowel movements
- Hand tremors
- Irregular and/or light menstrual periods
- Goiter (abnormal growth/enlargement of the thyroid) (1,4,5).
Causes: Why hyperthyroidism happens
The thyroid gland produces two main hormones: thyroxine (also called T4) and triiodothyronine (also called T3). When someone has hyperthyroidism, their thyroid gland produces too much of these hormones (4,6).
The leading cause of hyperthyroidism is Graves disease, an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system activates the thyroid to produce too much of its hormones (6). In addition to typical hyperthyroid symptoms, Graves disease can also cause eye symptoms such as eyelid swelling, blurred vision, tearing, discomfort, and bulging of the eyes (1,4,6). It’s not yet clear what causes Graves disease.
Pregnancy can cause a thyroid disorder called postpartum thyroiditis. Postpartum thyroiditis usually begins between two and six months after giving birth, and generally lasts up to one year (7). Symptoms of postpartum thyroiditis can include hyperthyroidism and/or hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), and are usually mild. Postpartum thyroiditis affects about 7 in 100 pregnancies, and should be managed with the help of a healthcare provider (7). Most people who develop postpartum thyroiditis recover their thyroid function, but about 1 in 5 people with postpartum thyroiditis develop hypothyroidism that is lifelong (8,9).
How hyperthyroidism is diagnosed
A healthcare provider will probably ask questions about symptoms, medical and family history, and menstrual history. They will perform a simple physical exam. If the healthcare provider thinks a thyroid disorder might be present, they will likely perform a blood test to measure levels of thyroid hormones. In some cases, an ultrasound of the thyroid gland will be performed.
Why get checked for hyperthyroidism
Thyroid disorders are manageable once they’ve been diagnosed, but it can be difficult to spot their symptoms. Left untreated, symptoms can worsen and impact a person’s quality of life. Untreated hyperthyroidism can lead to brittle bones, heart problems, and eye problems (from Graves disease) (10,11). Rarely, people with hyperthyroidism may experience a sudden and serious intensification of symptoms called a thyrotoxic crisis, also known as a hyperthyroid storm (12). Thyrotoxic crisis is considered a medical emergency that should be treated immediately.
Pregnancy with untreated hyperthyroidism can have negative outcomes for both the pregnant parent and child, including low birth weight, preterm delivery, and pregnancy-induced high blood pressure (13).
Thyroid disorders are most often treated or managed with medications to balance the levels of thyroid hormones in the body. Treatment for hyperthyroidism is usually lifelong.
Medications: Antithyroid medications help prevent the thyroid gland from over-producing hormones (4,6). A healthcare provider might also prescribe a heart medication called a beta blocker to help with symptoms like anxiety and heart palpitations (4,6).
Radioiodine treatment: Radioiodine treatment shrinks the thyroid gland to lessen the amount of hormones it produces (4,6).
Surgery: In severe cases, some or all of the thyroid gland might be removed to limit or stop hormone production (4,6).
What to track
If you suspect you might have hyperthyroidism, it can be helpful to keep a record of your symptoms. Here is what we recommend you track in Clue.
Essential to track
- Bleeding patterns
Helpful to to track
- Blood volume
Download Clue to track your menstrual cycle and symptoms.