What Is a Thyroid Storm or Thyroid Crisis?

A thyroid storm -- or thyroid crisis -- can be a life-threatening condition. It often includes a rapid heartbeat, fever, and even fainting.

Your thyroid is a master at managing your body. The hormones produced by this gland located at the base of your neck help control your metabolism. That’s how quickly your body processes food, converts it to energy, and runs your organs.

Thyroid storm can be brought on by a number of ailments. One of them, Graves’ disease, causes the thyroid to overproduce hormones (hyperthyroidism). When it happens suddenly, you can have a thyroid storm. It can come on within hours and may require immediate hospitalization.

Symptoms

  • Fever. Typically anything over 100.5 F.
  • Diarrhea and vomiting. This can include nausea and abdominal pain.
  • Nervousness and confusion. People affected by a thyroid storm may have terrible anxiety and become delirious.
  • Unconsciousness. If untreated, the affected person may fall into a coma.

If this happens to you or someone you know, call 911 immediately.

Other Causes

A thyroid storm can also be triggered by other conditions. They include:

  • Pregnancy. Hormone production is strongly affected by childbearing.
  • Infection. Illnesses such as pneumonia and upper respiratory tract infection can bring one on.
  • Not taking thyroid medication correctly. People with hyperthyroid conditions must take medications to regulate hormone production. Stopping the medication may trigger a storm.
  • Damage to the thyroid gland. Even a punch in the throat can cause hormone production to spike.
  • Surgery. An operation for another ailment may cause an increase in hormone production.

Treatment

Thyroid storms must be handled quickly when they happen.

Doctors can treat them with antithyroid medications, potassium iodide, beta blockers, and steroids.

You’ll usually begin to improve within 1 to 3 days. Once the crisis has passed, you should be evaluated by an endocrinologist (gland doctor) to determine if more treatment is needed.

Thyroid storms don’t have to be a long-term concern. They can usually be prevented from happening again with medication and therapy. People with an overactive thyroid typically live long and healthy lives when the condition is properly managed. If you have concerns, make sure to discuss them with your doctor.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on March 01, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

Hormone Health Network: “What Does the Thyroid Gland Do?”

Thyroid Foundation of Canada: “Hyperthyroidism (Thyrotoxicosis).”

National Health Service (UK): “Complications of an overactive thyroid.”

PubMed Health: “How does the thyroid work?”

Carroll, Richard, and Glenn Matfin: “Endocrine and metabolic emergencies: thyroid storm.” Therapeutic Advances in Endocrinology and Metabolism, Jun. 2010.

American Thyroid Association: “Hypothyroidism (Underactive).”

UpToDate: “Thyroid Storm.”

 Critical Care Nurse: “Thyroid Storm During Pregnancy: A Medical Emergency.”

Nayak, Bindu, MD, and Kenneth Burman, MD: “Thyrotoxicosis and Thyroid Storm.” Endocrinology and Metabolism Clinics of North America, 2006.

Lab Tests Online: “Jaundice.”

Mayo Clinic: “Graves’ disease.”

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