An over-active thyroid (sometimes referred to as hyperthyroidism) is a condition in which your thyroid gland produces too much thyroxine - a hormone which plays a vital role in a number of bodily functions. These include:
- Heart and muscle function
- Bone maintenance
- Brain development
An over-active thyroid speeds up your metabolism, which can lead to sudden and dramatic weight loss, and inability to maintain a healthy weight or a rapid, irregular heartbeat as well as increased sweating and nervousness.
There are several potential treatments for an over-active thyroid. Your doctor will often advise you on which is best for you depending on your age, general physical health and the severity of your condition.
1. Radioactive iodine
This treatment is usually administered orally so that it can be absorbed by your thyroid, causing the gland to shrink. This shrinkage then allows your symptoms to subside and usually takes 3 to 6 months to take effect. If taken incorrectly though, this treatment can cause the opposite issue of an under-active thyroid due to too much shrinkage, so it's best to make sure you listen carefully to your doctor's advice.
2. Anti-thyroid medications
These medications are used to gradually reduce symptoms of an over-active thyroid by preventing the gland from producing excess amounts of hormones. This treatment generally sees an improvement in symptoms within 6 to 12 weeks but usually continues for at least a year in order to have a lasting effect. In some cases, this treatment can provide a permanent treatment, though a few cases will experience a relapse and start to suffer symptoms again later down the line.
Beta-blockers are more commonly used to treat high blood pressure and while they won't reduce your thyroid levels they can help relieve some of the other symptoms of an over-active thyroid. Beta-blockers can be highly effective at treating rapid heart rates and heart palpitations. They are generally prescribed to help you feel better until your thyroid returns to normal functions. There are side effects however which can include:
- Upset stomachs
- Constipation or diarrhoea
4. Surgery (thyroidectomy)
If you're pregnant or have some form of intolerance to anti-thyroid medications or are unable to undergo iodine therapy, your over-active thyroid may be treated surgically. However, this is only used as the treatment in very rare cases.
During a thyroidectomy, your surgeon will remove a large portion of your thyroid gland, thus reducing the level of hormone it can produce. After surgery, you will need to be treated with other drugs in order to maintain a normal, healthy level of hormones.
Managing an over-active thyroid can be tricky, but with the right care, diet and advice it is manageable and many people who have experienced an over-active thyroid go on to live normal lives. If you would like more nutrition information talk to our specialist dietitians.