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Women's Health

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Hyperthyroidism - Topic Overview


Hyperthyroidism means your thyroid makes too much thyroid hormone. Your thyroid is a gland in the front of your neck camera.gif. It controls your metabolism, which is how your body turns food into energy. It also affects your heart, muscles, bones, and cholesterol.

Having too much thyroid hormone can make a lot of things in your body speed up. You may lose weight quickly, have a fast heartbeat, sweat a lot, or feel nervous and moody. Or you may have no symptoms at all. While your doctor is doing a test for another reason, he or she may discover that you have hyperthyroidism.

Hyperthyroidism is easily treated. With treatment, you can lead a healthy life. Without treatment, hyperthyroidism can lead to serious heart problems, bone problems, and a dangerous condition called thyroid storm.

Graves' disease causes most hyperthyroidism. In Graves' disease, the body's natural defense (immune) system attacks the thyroid gland. The thyroid reacts by making too much thyroid hormone. Like many thyroid problems, it often runs in families.

Sometimes hyperthyroidism is caused by a swollen thyroid or small growths in the thyroid called thyroid nodules.

This topic focuses on hyperthyroidism caused by Graves' disease.

You may have no symptoms at all. Or:

  • You may feel nervous, moody, weak, or tired.
  • Your hands may shake, your heart may beat fast, or you may have problems breathing.
  • You may be hot and sweaty or have warm, red, itchy skin.
  • You may have more bowel movements than usual.
  • You may have fine, soft hair that is falling out.
  • You may lose weight even though you eat the same or more than usual.

If you have any of these symptoms, call your doctor. Without treatment, hyperthyroidism can lead to heart problems, bone problems, and a dangerous condition called thyroid storm.

Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and do a physical exam. Then he or she will order blood tests to see how much thyroid hormone your body is making.

Sometimes hyperthyroidism is found while you are having a test for another reason. You may be surprised to find out that you have this problem.

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