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Women's Health

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Overactive Thyroid (Hyperthyroidism)

How Is Hyperthyroidism Treated?

There are several different ways to treat hyperthyroidism. Before choosing the one that's best for you, your doctor will consider your age, overall heath, severity of your symptoms, and specific cause of your overactive thyroid.

Treatment options include:

  • Anti-thyroid drugs. These medications, including propylthiouracil (PTU) and methimazole (Tapazole), help prevent the thyroid gland from making new hormone. This doesn't permanently damage the thyroid, but some people may have serious side effects.
  • Radioactive iodine (RAI) taken by mouth. Overactive thyroid cells quickly absorb this iodine and soon die. This prevents the release of thyroid hormone. Any remaining radioactive iodine disappears from the body within a few days. It may take a few months for the therapy to relieve hyperthyroidism symptoms, and a second dose may be needed. People who have this treatment will develop an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), and will need thyroid hormone supplements for the rest of their life. This therapy cannot be done during pregnancy.
  • Surgery to remove all or part of the thyroid, called a thyroidectomy. Most people who have this procedure eventually develop an underactive thyroid and will need to take thyroid hormone-replacement medication for the rest of their life.
  • Beta-blockers to slow down your heart rate. These medicines do not lower your thyroid hormone levels but help relieve symptoms related to a rapid heart rate.

After treatment, you will need regular blood tests to check your thyroid hormone levels. Your doctor may need to adjust your medication dose from time to time.

Complications of Hyperthyroidism

It is important to maintain regular, lifelong visits with your doctor if you have hyperthyroidism. Untreated or improperly treated, an overactive thyroid can lead to severe, even life-threatening problems.

Complications linked to hyperthyroidism include:

Thyrotoxic crisis is a sudden worsening of hyperthyroidism symptoms that can be deadly if not treated right away. Seek immediate medical help if you or someone you know has hyperthyroidism and develops the following symptoms:

  • Agitation or signs of delirium
  • Confusion
  • Decreased awareness
  • Fever
  • Restlessness
  • Very fast pulse

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on August 27, 2015
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