What Is a Thyroid Storm or Thyroid Crisis?

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on February 20, 2024
2 min read

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.

A 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.

  • 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.

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.
  • Overgrowth of thyroid tissue. This overgrowth of tissue is also called a thyroid adenoma or nodule. The vast majority of these nodules are not cancerous.
  • Toxic multinodular goiter. This means that you have multiple growths on your thyroid. These growths produce more thyroid hormone than your body needs. This is called hyperthyroidism.

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.