Hyperthyroidism: The Flip Side of the Thyroid Equation

Lesser-known condition can lead to serious medical consequences

Tuesday, August 13, 2013 1:24 pm EDT



While hypothyroidism (low thyroid hormone) is the most common thyroid disorder in the U.S., with an estimated 4.6 percent of Americans suffering from the condition, its counterpart—hyperthyroidism—is just as serious and in its most severe form can be life-threatening, the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) and the American College of Endocrinology (ACE) warns.

Hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid releases too much of its hormones over a short or long period of time. The causes vary, but the most common cause is Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disorder in which the body’s natural defense system attacks the thyroid gland. Other causes of hyperthyroidism include a thyroid nodule, thyroiditis (inflammation of the thyroid gland), excessive iodine ingestion and excessive intake of thyroid hormone medication. It occurs in almost one percent of the American population and affects women five to ten times more than men.

The symptoms of hyperthyroidism often are mistaken for other conditions and can include weight loss, trouble sleeping, rapid heart rate, anxiousness, heat sensitivity, hand tremors, hair loss, muscle weakness, increased sweating and more. In patients with Graves’ disease, swelling of the muscles and tissue around the eyes also may develop, causing the eyes to protrude.

Before the development of current treatment options, those diagnosed with hyperthyroidism had a death rate as high as 50 percent. Today, treatment depends on the cause, the severity of symptoms and the patient’s age. For patients with sustained forms of hyperthyroidism, such as Graves' disease, anti-thyroid medications are often used. Radioactive iodine, which is absorbed by the thyroid cells only, is the most widely recommended therapy for permanent treatment of hyperthyroidism.

While hyperthyroidism is generally treatable, infection or stress in a patient can cause symptoms to worsen suddenly and result in a condition called thyroid storm or thyrotoxicosis. The condition causes high blood pressure, delirium, fever and heart failure and requires immediate medical attention or sudden death can be imminent.

For more information about hyperthyroidism and other types of thyroid disorders, visit www.thyroidawareness.com.

About the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE)

The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) represents more than 6,500 endocrinologists in the United States and abroad. AACE is the largest association of clinical endocrinologists in the world. The majority of AACE members is certified in endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism and concentrate on the treatment of patients with endocrine and metabolic disorders including diabetes, thyroid disorders, osteoporosis, growth hormone deficiency, cholesterol disorders, hypertension and obesity. Visit our site at www.aace.com.

About the American College of Endocrinology (ACE)

The American College of Endocrinology (ACE) is the educational and scientific arm of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE). ACE is the leader in advancing the care and prevention of endocrine and metabolic disorders by: providing professional education and reliable public health information; recognizing excellence in education, research and service; promoting clinical research and defining the future of Clinical Endocrinology. For more information, please visit www.aace.com.