Hyperthyroidism — overactive thyroid
Hyperthyroidism is an overactive thyroid, meaning the thyroid gland produces
too much hormone. The condition occurs eight times more frequently in women than
in men, and can develop as early as their 30’s.
A well-functioning thyroid makes a balanced amount of two hormones: T4 and T3. These
hormones manage our metabolism and influence our body temperature, body weight and
how many calories we burn. If your thyroid produces too much of these hormones,
all the cells in your body increase the rate at which they function, resulting in
thyroid problems and some or all of the following hyperthyroid symptoms:
- Heart palpitations; accelerated heart rate
- Chest pain
- A feeling of being too warm all the time
- Nervousness and trembling
- Insomnia despite feeling exhausted
- Diarrhea and GI upset
- Increased appetite
- Light or absent menstrual periods; infertility
- Weight loss
- Muscle deterioration
- Warm, moist skin
- Hair loss
- Bulging eyes, “spacy” gaze
- Heightened anxiety, irritability, moodiness or depression
The symptoms of hyperthyroidism can be similar to those of other conditions, including
anxiety disorders or mania-like behavior. So, rather than just assume it is just
a mood disorder, thyroid function should always be checked to rule out hyperthyroidism
when a woman experiences new symptoms of anxiety, panic attacks, or hyperactivity
of any kind.
Hyperthyroid symptoms can also worsen gradually over time. Many women have had overactive
thyroid for months or years but don’t recognize the symptoms until they become
more severe. Older women may lose weight or become depressed without having any
of the other hyperthyroidism symptoms.
Causes of overactive thyroid symptoms
The most common underlying cause of hyperthyroidism is Graves’ disease,
or toxic diffuse goiter. Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disorder
that affects women in their 30’s and 40’s. The body produces antibodies
that inflame and enlarge the thyroid gland, and may also cause eye swelling and
a thickening of skin on the lower legs. Once the thyroid is under control, eye and
skin problems generally resolve.
A less frequent cause is an unusual or “hot” nodule that appears within
the thyroid. Also called toxic nodular goiter, these nodules stimulate
production of thyroid hormones.
Occasionally a virus will inflame the thyroid and cause a temporary episode of hyperthyroidism.
This condition is called thyroiditis, and usually resolves on its own.
We also see women who get hyperthyroidism from taking too much thyroid medication
that contains T3. Anyone taking thyroid supplementation should be closely monitored
for this reason. We recommend alternative treatments for thyroid problems that help
your body maintain hormonal balance naturally. Alternative treatments also enhance
the effectiveness of conventional methods, yielding comparable improvement at lower
Natural, alternative thyroid treatments
If you experience any hyperthyroid symptoms for more than a few days, please call
your healthcare practitioner. There are several ways to treat an overactive thyroid
gland, including controlling inflammation through dietary supplements and optimal
Many foods naturally suppress thyroid hormone production, such as cruciferous vegetables,
leafy greens, soybeans, peaches, and pears. Limiting intake of dairy and caffeine
has been successful for some women.
Women with well-established Graves’ disease may require more aggressive treatment
through a radioactive isotope or nodule surgery.
The sooner an overactive thyroid is diagnosed, the easier it will be to bring it
back under control with nutrition, supplements, and lifestyle changes. We encourage
women to pay attention to how they feel and practice preventative healthcare. A
healthy diet, exercise, and a medical–grade multivitamin will support thyroid
health at all stages.
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Last Modified Date: 04/20/2011
Principal Author: Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP