ROCKLAND COUNTY, N.Y. -- The regulator of many everyday functions, the thyroid gland helps the body use energy, stay warm and keeps the brain, heart, muscles and other organs working as they should. However, when the thyroid does not work properly, it can cause serious problems.
In a disorder known as hyperthyroidism, the thyroid gland makes and releases too much thyroid hormone, throwing the body into disarray. If not treated, hyperthyroidism can lead to serious heart, bones, muscles, menstrual cycle and fertility issues.The good news is that in most cases, hyperthyroidism can be cured.
“An estimated 1 percent of people have an overactive thyroid, and the problem is much more common in women,” said Dr. Valentine J. Burroughs, director of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism for Highland Medical, P.C., and Nyack Hospital.
Potential risk factors for hyperthyroidism include:
- Family history of the condition
- Taking medications containing high amounts of iodine
- Eating too much seaweed and seaweed-based supplements, which contain high levels of iodine
Hyperthyroidism can cause nervousness, irritability, moodiness, increased perspiration, rapid heartbeat, hand tremors and weight loss. Other symptoms can include increased sensitivity to heat, loose stools, weight loss, fatigue, muscle weakness and difficulty sleeping. A telltale sign of hyperthyroidism is an enlarged thyroid gland which can appear as a swelling at the base of the neck.
Doctors can make a diagnosis based on symptoms, a physical exam and blood tests to measure thyroid hormones. The physical exam includes a check for an enlarged thyroid gland, rapid pulse, smooth skin and a tremor in the fingers or hand. Doctors may also perform a thyroid scan to see if the entire thyroid is affected, and a radioactive iodine uptake test to measure the thyroid’s ability to absorb iodine.
The first treatment for hyperthyroidism is medication designed stop the thyroid from producing hormones. These drugs are generally taken for up to two years until the hyperthyroidism is under control. A beta-blocker may also be prescribed to treat additional symptoms such as nervousness, palpitations and insomnia.
The second step, once thyroid hormone levels are stabilized with medication, is to treat the thyroid with radioactive iodine. This treatment, taken by mouth, destroys overactive thyroid tissue.
Surgery to remove the thyroid gland is a last resort. “We try not to remove the thyroid gland unless the patient can’t take thyroid medication or radioactive iodine,” said Burroughs. After surgery, many patients end up needing to take thyroid replacement medication. “Complications of surgery are far less common in the hands of highly experienced and skilled thyroid surgeons,” he said.
When diagnosed with a thyroid issue, it's important to seek the guidance of a medical professional. “There’s no one treatment for hyperthyroidism that works for everyone,” said Burroughs. “In most cases, once you are diagnosed, you will be referred to an endocrinologist who has expertise in managing thyroid issues. Once treatment has lowered your thyroid hormone levels to a normal range, your primary care physician can continue to monitor your condition.”
For more information on the services offered by Highland Medical, click here.