There are several different ways to treat an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism). Before choosing the one that's best for you, your doctor will consider what’s causing it, your age, your overall heath, and how severe your symptoms are.
Because taking this medication makes your thyroid slow down, there’s a risk that you can develop hypothyroidism. When that happens you have an underactive thyroid. If you develop hypothyroidism, you may need to take daily medication to help replace your thyroid hormones.
Doctors have used radioactive iodine to treat hyperthyroidism for over 60 years. It’s considered safe. That’s why more than 70% of adults with hyperthyroidism are treated with it. Doctors are also using it more frequently to treat children older than 5 years.
In some cases, an overactive thyroid is treated with medicines that block its ability to produce thyroid hormones. Methimazole and propylthiouracil help control the symptoms and can have long-term benefits.
Studies show 20% to 30% of people with Graves’ disease (the most common cause of overactive thyroid) saw their symptoms go away for a long period of time after taking these drugs 12 to 18 months.
Methimazole has less-severe side effects, so it’s prescribed more often.
About 5% of people who take antithyroid medications develop allergic reactions like rashes and hives. About 1 in 500 patients end up with fewer white blood cells. When this happens, you’re more likely to develop an infection. There’s also the risk of liver damage.
See your doctor right away if you develop symptoms like a fever or sore throat while taking these drugs.
These medications don’t change the amount of thyroid hormone in your body, but they can help you feel better by controlling your symptoms.
Side effects include:
Surgery isn’t typically recommended for an overactive thyroid. But if you can’t take antithyroid medicines or get radioactive iodine therapy, your doctor may recommend a surgery called thyroidectomy. It means your thyroid will be completely removed.
This surgery comes with some risks. It can damage your vocal cords and your parathyroid glands, which are located at the back of your thyroid. These glands help control the amount of calcium in your blood.
If you have the operation, you’ll need to take medicine for the rest of your life to provide your body with the right amount of thyroid hormone. If your parathyroid glands are also removed, you may need a medication to keep the calcium levels in your blood where they should be.
Treatments for Eye Problems
If your hyperthyroidism is caused by Graves’ disease, you may have a condition that affects your eyes. This is called Graves’ ophthalmopathy. If your symptoms aren’t severe, you can usually manage them by avoiding bright lights and wind, and using eye drops. But in some cases, you might need to take steroids to help control the swelling behind your eyes.
For some people with Graves’ ophthalmopathy, surgery is the best option. There are two kinds that can help severe symptoms:
- Orbital decompression surgery involves removing the bone between your sinuses and eye socket. It can help by making extra room for your eyes so that they go back to their normal position. It can help improve your vision. There are risks to the surgery, including double vision.
- Eye muscle surgery is sometimes used to correct double vision. It works by cutting muscles in your eyeball that are covered in scar tissue. Graves’ ophthalmopathy can cause this. The cut muscles are then reattached in a different position, which can put your eyes back in proper alignment. You may need this surgery more than once to get the right results.