Hyperthyroidism means overactivity of the thyroid gland, resulting in too much thyroid hormone in the bloodstream. The over-production of thyroid hormones leads to overactivity of the body's metabolism.

Symptoms of Hyperthyroidism

While each person may experience hyperthyroidism differently, the most common symptoms include the following:

  • Nervousness
  • Irritability
  • Increased perspiration
  • Thinning of the skin
  • Fine, brittle hair
  • Weak muscles, especially in the upper arms and thighs
  • Shaky hands
  • Fast heartbeat
  • High blood pressure
  • Increased bowel movements
  • Weight loss
  • Sleeping difficulty
  • Prominent eyes
  • Sensitivity to bright light
  • Confusion
  • Irregular menstrual cycle
  • Fatigue
  • Goiter (enlargement of the thyroid gland) 

The symptoms of hyperthyroidism may resemble other conditions. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.

Causes of Hyperthyroidism

There are several forms of hyperthyroidism, including:

  • Graves' disease (diffuse toxic goiter): Graves' disease is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism. It is an autoimmune disorder in which an antibody over-stimulates the thyroid, prompting too much production of thyroid hormone. It is most common in young to middle-aged women and tends to run in families. Symptoms of Graves' disease are identical to hyperthyroidism, with the addition of goiter (enlarged thyroid that may cause a bulge in the neck), bulging eyes (exophthalmos), and thickened skin over the shin area.
  • Toxic nodular goiter (also called multinodular goiter): Hyperthyroidism caused by toxic nodular goiter is a condition in which one or more nodules of the thyroid become overactive. Symptoms of toxic nodular goiter do not include bulging eyes or skin problems, as in Graves' disease. The cause of toxic nodular goiter is not known.
  • Thyroiditis: Thyroiditis causes temporary hyperthyroidism, usually followed by hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), as in Hashimoto's thyroiditis.

In addition, if a person takes too many thyroid hormone tablets, hyperthyroidism will occur. Rarely, a benign pituitary gland tumor may overproduce thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), which causes hyperthyroidism. 

Diagnosing Hyperthyroidism

In addition to a complete medical history and physical exam, diagnostic procedures for hyperthyroidism may include:

  • Measurement of thyroid hormones and TSH in the bloodstream
  • Thyroid ultrasound: A test to check the thyroid gland for nodules
  • Thyroid scan: A test that uses a radioactive substance to create an image of the thyroid

Treatment for Hyperthyroidism

Treatment for hyperthyroidism is very specific for each patient. The goal of treatment is to restore the thyroid gland to normal, producing healthy levels of thyroid hormone.

Your doctor will work with you to develop the best possible treatment plan, taking into account factors such as your age and overall health, the type of hyperthyroidism you have, and your tolerance for certain medications, procedures, or therapies.

Treatment may include:

  • Use of antithyroid drugs that help lower the level of thyroid hormones in the blood.
  • Use of radioactive iodine, in the form of a pill or liquid, which damages thyroid cells so that production of thyroid hormone is slowed down.
  • Surgery to remove all or part of the thyroid.
  • Use of beta-blocking agents, which block the action of thyroid hormone on the body, mostly to decrease the rapid heart rate and palpitations. 

Why Choose Columbia

At Columbia University, our team of experts provides specialized management of hypothyroidism, personalizing the best available treatments to your needs. Treatment for hypothyroidism is often lifelong, so our doctors are skilled in helping you control symptoms with the least possible impact on your daily life and activities.