The Body Diaries: Hyperthyroidism

Thyroid disease affects an estimated 27 million Americans, but only 14 million of those cases ever end up being diagnosed. This is because the thyroid hormone interacts with so many different parts of your body that the symptoms of an imbalance can be widespread and seemingly unrelated, making it difficult to pinpoint the cause of your problems.

If you’re experiencing symptoms like unexplained weight loss, hunger, tremors or nervousness, you could possibly have an overactive thyroid, also known as hyperthyroidism.

What is hyperthyroidism?

Your body’s ability to metabolize, or convert fuel into energy, relies on a series of hormone-secreting glands each telling the other what to do. Your thyroid gland, located in your neck, has the very important job of converting iodine into the thyroid hormones thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). When thyroid hormone levels in the blood drop too low, the hypothalamus gland, located in the brain, releases a hormone that communicates with the pituitary gland, also in the brain. The pituitary gland then releases another hormone to stimulate the thyroid gland to produce more T3 and T4.

Since thyroid hormones interact with so many different parts of your body, the symptoms of a thyroid issue can be diverse. The most common form of thyroid disease is hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid. Those suffering from hypothyroidism experience symptoms like unexplained weight gain, a sensitivity to cold, constipation, depression and heavy menstrual cycles. Although it’s less common, hyperthyroidism, or when the thyroid produces too many hormones, can be just as hard on your system and its opposing symptoms just as challenging to live with.

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If you’re suffering from an overactive thyroid, you may experience symptoms like tremors, sweating, diarrhea, thinning skin, or an increased heart rate. You may notice that you’re hungrier and eating more but that you’re losing weight. You might also have lighter than normal periods and have an increased sensitivity to heat. Finally, you could also be feeling nervous, irritable or anxious.

Although most of the symptoms of hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism are on opposite sides of the spectrum, some that they share include exhaustion, dry and brittle hair, difficulty sleeping, muscle fatigue, and the possibility of a swollen neck caused by an enlarged thyroid gland.

Sometimes these symptoms can be slow to develop or be subtle enough to go undetected. Beta-blockers that are often prescribed to treat conditions like high blood pressure, heart problems and migraines can often mask the symptoms of hyperthyroidism, making them difficult to detect.

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