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Grave's disease (hyperthyroidism)

What is hyperthyroidism?

Hyperthyroidism affects over two and a half million Americans and is more common in women than in men. It is a condition where the amount of thyroid hormone in the blood is too high. High levels of the thyroid hormone causes one's metabolism (the rate at which the body consumes energy) to increase.

What are the symptoms of hyperthyroidism?

The symptoms of hyperthyroidism range from mild to severe depending on the level of the thyroid hormone in the blood. The most common signs are feeling excessively warm, sweating, heart palpitations, weight loss despite an increased appetite, and sometimes hand shakes or tremors. In many cases, there is no pain in the thyroid gland which is found in the neck, beneath the voice box.

What causes hyperthyroidism?

There are several known causes of hyperthyroidism. Grave's Disease is the most common. Grave's Disease is a condition where the immune system attacks the thyroid gland with antibodies which causes the gland to overproduce and release excess thyroid hormone into the blood stream - increasing the metabolism of many organs.

Lumps or nodules on the thyroid gland can also cause the thyroid gland to produce too much hormone.

Thyroiditis is a condition that also causes hyperthyroidism. However, because there is a finite amount of thyroid hormone stored in the gland the hyperthyroidism usually will last three months or less. Like Grave's Disease, thyroiditis is caused by an attack on the thyroid from the immune system. However, instead of producing antibodies that stimulate the gland to produce more hormone, the immune system damages the gland and causes the hormone to leak out.

How is hyperthyroidism treated?

Beta blockers are very common and helpful in treating hyperthyroidism no matter what the cause. While these drugs do not have any effect on the thyroid gland itself, they do help control symptoms like heart palpitations, shakes and some of the psychological problems that occur with hyperthyroidism.

If the cause of the hyperthyroidism is Grave's Disease or toxic nodules it may be necessary to treat with additional medications that will slow the thyroid gland down. For the last ten years or so a treatment known as "radioactive iodine" has also been used to treat patients with hyperthyroidism. This treatment takes about two to four months to work and it causes the thyroid to slow its production of hormone down.

Surgery is less commonly used since most patients can be treated successfully with medications.


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