Treatment Options For Hyperthyroidism
At its outset, hyperthyroidism can be disorienting – and even scary. That said, the condition is treatable and manageable. Once you find a treatment plan that works for you, it can be just one small aspect of your life. The key is diagnosing it as quickly as possible so you can start feeling better as soon as you can.
Hyperthyroidism is one of two major umbrellas of thyroid disorders – the other is hypothyroidism, which is essentially a series of opposite issues. Over 12% of people in the United States will have a thyroid condition during their lives – that means scientists estimate that around 20 million Americans have a thyroid issue. As many as 60% of people who have thyroid disease are unaware that they have it.
Even Oprah Winfrey has experienced hyperthyroidism. “My body was turning on me,” Oprah wrote for her magazine, O. “First hyperthyroidism, which sped up my metabolism and made me unable to sleep for days. (Most people lose weight. I didn’t.) Then hypothyroidism, which slowed down my metabolism and made me want to sleep all the time. (Most people gain weight. I did! Twenty pounds!)”
Author Anne Kemp, another public figure with hyperthyroidism, shared her experiences with Graves’ disease, a type of hyperthyroid condition, on her blog. Kemp detailed on the blog that it took more than eight months for her to receive a diagnosis.
“The side effects mimicked other illnesses, and I was being misdiagnosed,” Kemp wrote. “Meanwhile I was losing my hair, exhausted to the point I couldn’t get of bed for more than 5 minutes, and my heart felt on some days like it was slamming its way out of my chest.”
These days, Kemp is getting treatment for her hyperthyroidism, so her story – and anyone else’s – is not meant to serve as a frightening tale so much as a depiction of how frustrating it can be in the early days of living with hyperthyroidism. After being diagnosed and receiving treatment, many people no longer experience symptoms. The disorder can be managed – it’s just about knowing what to look for when considering whether you have the disease.
So, what is the thyroid?
Maybe we should back up a little. Knowing more about hyperthyroidism means knowing more about the thyroid in general. The thyroid is a part of your endocrine system. It’s the small butterfly-shaped gland at the base of your neck. The thyroid creates hormones that play a part in regulating your metabolism, your brain function, heart rate, cholesterol, energy, and many other factors.
When your thyroid is operating as it should, you likely barely think of it. When things go astray, however, the symptoms can make a major impact on your life. When your thyroid isn’t functioning correctly, the issue is often categorized either hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism. Hyperthyroidism occurs when your thyroid produces too many hormones, and hypothyroidism occurs when your body doesn’t produce enough hormones.
Hyperthyroidism is often hereditary. One of the biggest conditions associated with hyperthyroidism is Graves’ disease, which is characterized by the immune system attacking the thyroid. Subsequently, the thyroid produces too many hormones. Two other conditions associated with hyperthyroidism are thyroid nodules and goiter, an enlarging of the thyroid and, in turn, the front of the neck.
The Truth About Common Thyroid Misconceptions
It’s important to separate fact from fiction so that you can get the best care possible and get a proper diagnosis. Here are a few common facts about thyroid conditions that sometimes get confused.
Fact: Thyroid conditions can appear at any stage of life.
Many people believe that thyroid issues only show up in a person’s 50s or later, but that is hardly the only case. In fact, hyperthyroidism frequently shows up between ages 20 and 40.
Fact: Thyroid medication takes some time to fully kick in.
If your doctor prescribes thyroid medication, it can take a few weeks to a few months on the medication for your hormone levels to fully return to normal. This means it can also take some time for your symptoms to fully dissipate. Hang in there!
Fact: Thyroid conditions can be silent and sneaky.
You might not know you have a thyroid condition right away. Symptoms can be vague and subtle, or easily mistaken for symptoms of another disease. Many people live with a thyroid condition for quite some time before realizing what they’re experiencing. And as a result, they suffer through frustrating symptoms for much longer than is necessary.
What are the symptoms of hyperthyroidism?
Symptoms can vary from person to person, but a few common issues are heart palpitations, hair loss, anxiety, trouble sleeping, excess sweating, mood changes, and weight loss.
What are the top hyperthyroidism treatments?
Below are some of the most popular treatments for hyperthyroidism. When it comes to treating your hyperthyroid condition, your doctor is the best equipped person to help you come up with a treatment plan. They’ll likely prescribe medication. You might want to complement your medical care with natural treatments, like supplements and lifestyle changes. All these treatments can combine to provide the maximum benefits to you.
Of course, if you have any doubts about any treatment option you’re considering, be sure to consult a medical professional.
- Antithyroid Medicine
Many cases of hyperthyroidism call for prescription medication. These medications can block your thyroid’s ability to produce excessive amounts of hormones. Two of the most popular are methimazole and propylthiouracil. It can take some trial and error with your doctor to find the ideal dose for you. The medication will take some time to fully take effect, but within a few months, you’ll see your symptoms diminish. A small number of people experience allergic reactions to thyroid medications, so make sure you’re regularly checking in with your healthcare provider when taking the medications.
As an aside, some doctors will also prescribe beta blockers, but this is just for managing symptoms, not for actually treating your hyperthyroidism. Beta blockers can slow your heart rate and treat high blood pressure. They can help you get a handle on that racing heart feeling that often accompanies hyperthyroidism, especially in the weeks or months when you’re waiting for your antithyroid medication to fully take effect.
As intimidating as the name of this treatment sounds, radioactive iodine is an extremely common and safe treatment for thyroid issues. With this treatment, you’ll take a radioactive iodine pill to shrink (or sometimes intentionally eliminate) your thyroid gland, which will stop it from overproducing hormones. Within about three to six months, your thyroid will be smaller and your symptoms will be squashed.
Your thyroid gland is the main organ in your system that absorbs iodine, so you don’t need to worry about other parts of your body having excessive radiation exposure. You’ll often only need one dose, though, as mentioned, it can take a few months for it to fully take effect.
Before you start the treatment, your doctor will conduct a test with a very small dose of the iodine to gather some extra information about your case. Once you’ve ingested the iodine, she’ll do a scan of your thyroid to determine just how much your thyroid is overproducing your hormones, and which iodine dose is right for your situation.
Perhaps ironically, one potential side effect of radioactive iodine therapy is developing hypothyroidism. Fortunately, hypothyroidism is actually usually much easier to treat than hyperthyroidism in the long term. If you do develop this side effect, your doctor can help you find a treatment solution.
Thyroid surgery is not a first choice for treating hyperthyroidism. However, if you’re unable to take antithyroid medication or do radioactive iodine treatment, it can be helpful to know that another option exists in the form of surgery. Usually, with surgery to treat hyperthyroidism (the procedure is called a thyroidectomy), the entire thyroid is removed. After the surgery, you’d need to take medication daily to make sure your body still gets the necessary amount of thyroid hormone.
While it’s very important to see a doctor when suffering from hyperthyroidism, there are also changes you can make at home on your own. For starters, you can aim to get better sleep if at all possible. This can be tough, since a common symptom of hyperthyroidism is trouble sleeping, but see if you can create a consistent bedtime (before midnight) and a consistent wake-up time.
Another great option is adding more exercise to your life. This can improve sleep, help to support your immune system, and can boost your mood with the help of endorphins.
Since hyperthyroidism can cause heart palpitations and high blood pressure, be sure to double check with your doctor if you have any concerns.
Another important step is to try to reduce stress from your life – something exercise and sleep can help with – as this can help your body heal better. Hyperthyroidism can make you anxious and more prone to stress, so it can help to take a step back and remember that life is meant to be fun and joyful. Feeling lower stress also makes it easier to take care of yourself.
Treatment Is On The Horizon
As difficult and upsetting as hyperthyroidism can be, the condition is extremely treatable with a time and care. Before you know it, your worst hyperthyroidism symptoms will be in the rearview – and you’ll be back to great health.