Symptoms of Hyperthyroidism

Posted by Lloyd on April 19, 2012

The signs and symptoms of hyperthyroidism may be mild or severe depending on how high the thyroid hormone levels are in the blood. The symptoms result from the increased metabolism that occurs in various body organs. In most cases, there is no pain in the thyroid gland. So patients may not recognize that their symptoms are caused by the overactivity of this small gland in the lower part of the neck. In the case of Graves’ disease or an overactive nodular goiter, symptoms usually develop slowly over a number of months. The patient may not be aware of them until they are severe, unless a family member or friend notices that the person is having problems. With damage to the thyroid gland from thyroiditis, symptoms may develop more quickly over a few weeks or even days.

The most common signs and symptoms of hyperthyroidism are feelings of excessive warmth and sweating, heart racing (palpitations), and shaking of the hands (tremors). Weight loss is also common but can be caused by many diseases. An important clue that the weight loss is due to hyperthyroidism is the finding that the patient is losing weight despite having an increased appetite. On rare occasions food intake may be so great that the patient with hyperthyroidism actually gains weight.

Since thyroid hormones have effects in so many tissues, many other signs of increased metabolism may occur in hyperthyroidism. Overactivity of the intestines can result in more frequent bowel movements. The breakdown of protein in the muscles can lead to weakness such that patients have difficulty climbing stairs or lifting objects. Even mild exertion can become a problem as the diaphragm (an important breathing muscle) becomes weakened, and patients frequently notice that their endurance is limited.

Hyperthyroidism often affects a person’s moods and thinking ability. This can be especially difficult for the patient to cope with. Concentrating becomes a problem and memory can be impaired. Patients often feel as though they are losing control and are easily upset by minor stress. Although they feel driven by a nervous energy, they often feel very tired. This may be due in part to the difficulty with sleeping that many hyperthyroid patients experience. Crying spells and feelings of depression are common, and the patient’s entire personality may change. These problems often make it very difficult for patients to perform well at work or in school. Home life also becomes challenging for both the hyperthyroid patient and her or his family.

An important consideration in older individuals is that the increased metabolism that occurs with hyperthyroidism can put a significant strain on the heart. This may result in an irregular rapid heartbeat called atrial fibrillation.

In addition, heart failure, chest pains (angina), or even a heart attack (myocardial infarction, MI) may occur. Excess thyroid hormone can also pull calcium out of the bones, which can worsen osteoporosis.

The thyroid gland itself is usually enlarged in most forms of hyperthyroidism, though it is usually not tender or sore unless the patient has a viral infection of the gland (subacute thyroiditis). The enlargement is caused either by invasion of the gland by cells from the immune system or by the growth of nodules in the gland. This thyroid enlargement, which is termed a goiter, may be visible in the patient’s neck, or may only be detected by careful feeling (palpation) of the neck by the patient’s physician.

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