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If your thyroid gland produces an excess of the hormone thyroxine, also known as thyroid hormone, you likely have a condition known as hyperthyroidism. This hormone is produced by the thyroid gland, which lies in the lower part of the neck, along the midline of your body. More common in women and among individuals 20-40 years of age, it's a treatable condition that can also result from taking too much thyroid replacement medication. If you are diagnosed with this condition, you may be referred to an ear, nose, and throat doctor for further evaluation in an effort to find a treatment that benefits you.

Diagnosing Hyperthyroidism

The process of determining the cause of an overactive thyroid gland usually includes a radioactive iodine uptake test, which measures how much iodine is absorbed by your thyroid. Iodine is used by your thyroid gland to produce thyroid hormone. Your evaluation will also include a physical examination and a review of your medical history to determine if there are issues that may be contributing to your condition.

Hyperthyroidism Symptoms

Symptoms of hyperthyroidism can be subtle to the point where making a diagnosis involves eliminating other possibilities. In some instances, an enlarged thyroid gland, called a goiter, may appear at the base of your neck. Symptoms associated with hyperthyroidism, which can vary based on age and the extent of the over production, may include:

  • Fatigue or difficulty sleeping
  • Sweating or heat intolerance
  • Unexplained or sudden weight loss
  • Changes in bowel patterns
  • Muscle weakness
  • Irritability or anxiety
  • Heart palpitations

Causes of Hyperthyroidism

Hyperthyroidism may be caused by Graves' disease, a condition where the thyroid gland becomes enlarged due to excessive hormone production. An autoimmune disorder, Graves' disease causes the immune system to produce antibodies that unintentionally stimulate the thyroid gland. A nodule located in the thyroid gland may also contribute to over-activity of the thyroid gland. Hyperthyroidism can also be caused by:

  • Thyroiditis, an inflammation of thyroid gland
  • Non-cancerous growths on the thyroid gland
  • Plummer's disease (multinodular goiter)
  • Ingesting too much iodine

Treating Hyperthyroidism

If excessive thyroid hormone levels are due to a dose of thyroid replacement medication that's too high, treatment will involve adjusting your medication and monitoring symptoms. Should there be no obvious underlying causes contributing to your hyperthyroidism, management will likely include the use of medication. If the problem is a nodule resulting in the overproduction, medication is usually recommended to suppress hormone production. Radioactive iodine treatment can achieve the same goal by destroying the tissue linked to hormone overproduction.

Surgery, in the form of a thyroidectomy, which is complete removal of the thyroid, may be recommended if you have severe symptoms that can't be managed with medication. If you need surgery, it's likely that you will need to take daily thyroid hormone medication to establish and maintain healthy thyroid hormone levels.

Treatment possibilities for hyperthyroidism also include:

  • Anti-thyroid medications
  • Beta blockers if you have an increased heart rate due to your hyperthyroidism
  • Symptom monitoring for mild cases of hyperthyroidism

Often developing after periods of high stress, hyperthyroidism is also associated with pregnancy. While surgery is sometimes required to remove the problematic nodule, the first course of treatment usually involves medication. The condition also requires regular monitoring to determine how effective treatments are and determine whether or not adjustments are necessary to keep it under control.

While hyperthyroidism can become serious if untreated, it is generally a treatable condition that responds well to medication, radioactive iodine, and/or surgery.