What is hyperthyroidism?
An overactive thyroid – technically called hyperthyroidism – is usually a sign of a pathological change in the thyroid gland. This vital hormonal gland produces various thyroid hormones, through which it controls practically the entire metabolism of the body. Depending on needs, the thyroid stimulates or slows down metabolism by increasing or decreasing hormone production.
If the function of the thyroid gland is disturbed, more or less thyroid hormones can be produced – temporarily or permanently – than the body needs. If you have an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), there is a lack of thyroid hormones – and your metabolism slows down. This can manifest itself in a variety of complaints. These include fatigue, weight gain or constipation.
- Weak thyroid: Signs of hypothyroidism
In the case of hyperthyroidism, however, exactly the opposite happens: the body is oversupplied with thyroid hormones, which accelerates the metabolism. This can also cause many different problems.
Women are significantly more likely to have an overactive thyroid than men. Graves’ disease is usually behind the hyperfunction: a disorder of the immune system causes the thyroid to produce too many hormones.
What are the effects of hyperthyroidism?
An overactive thyroid can affect the entire body. Because the excess of thyroid hormones causes all body cells to work at full speed. As a result, they use more energy than usual, causing the body’s basal metabolic rate to increase sharply.
The possible effects of an overactive thyroid include:
- increased sweating
- increased sensitivity to heat
- unexplained weight loss
- frequent cravings
- increased hair loss
- Racing heart and/or palpitations
- high blood pressure
- Irritability, nervousness
- shaking hands
- sleep disorders
- rapid fatigability
- Mood swings
- rapid physical exhaustion
- Muscle pain , muscle weakness
- brisk digestion, diarrhea
- in women: cycle disorders
In addition, with hyperthyroidism, the thyroid is often – but not necessarily – enlarged. Such a goiter can be noticeable through a feeling of pressure, a lump or foreign body in the throat and/or difficulty swallowing. However, it usually doesn’t cause any problems.
Depending on what triggers it, hyperthyroidism can be associated with other symptoms. In Graves’ disease, for example, the eyeball often protrudes. Experts call this change exophthalmos.
Without appropriate treatment of hyperthyroidism, there is a risk that various complications will develop over time. A long-term oversupply of thyroid hormones can lead to cardiovascular diseases (such as atrial fibrillation) or – due to accelerated bone remodeling – to osteoporosis.
In addition, any hyperthyroidism can suddenly become life-threatening – especially if it is not treated or is only inadequately treated. The technical term for this rare complication is thyrotoxic crisis. Typical signs of this are:
- high fever
- rapid pulse
- severe vomiting
- severe diarrhea
- Muscle cramps
- Muscle weakness
If the hyperthyroidism remains untreated in this situation, it will subsequently lead to cardiac arrhythmia and consciousness disorders, including coma and circulatory failure. Thyrotoxic crisis is a medical emergency that requires rapid intensive care assistance.
What does the test for hyperthyroidism show?
Hyperthyroidism can cause a variety of different symptoms. Our online test asks about a number of the most important symptoms of hyperfunction. The more of these apply to you, the more likely it is that your thyroid is producing too much thyroid hormone.
However, the test only has limited significance. Because hyperthyroidism does not always manifest itself in the typical way. In addition, the individual symptoms are not very distinctive: they can also occur with other illnesses or can be harmless.
It often happens, especially in old age, that despite an excess of thyroid hormones, typical signs of this are actually missing and the symptoms are only mild. Sometimes older sufferers simply have an increased heart rate or lose weight. Therefore, the self-test for hyperthyroidism cannot replace a test by a doctor.
Anyone who may have an overactive thyroid according to a test should always have any symptoms clarified by a doctor. The family doctor’s office is the first point of contact for this. If necessary, those affected receive a referral for further thyroid diagnostics – for example to a specialist in nuclear medicine or internal medicine.
A blood test provides important information about diagnosing hyperthyroidism: the doctor can determine thyroid levels and have the blood tested for thyroid antibodies.If hyperthyroidism is suspected, the thyroid gland will also be examined using ultrasound: This way, nodules and other changes in the thyroid tissue can be assessed. Depending on the findings, the doctor may order further examinations – such as scintigraphy , a fine needle puncture or eye examinations.