The symptoms of hyperthyroidism can mimic other health problems. Often, a person with hyperthyroidism will be diagnosed with a heart, a depressive condition, or a digestive disorder before discovering that they have an overactive thyroid gland.
One of the most common symptoms of hyperthyroidism is sudden, unexpected weight loss even though appetite and food consumption remains the same or is increased. Usually, the patient will complain that they "just can not gain any weight even though I'm eating more."
Tachycardia, or rapid heartbeat exceeding 100 beats per minute, is also a common symptom of hyperthyroidism and can occur with the feeling of pounding of the heart ( palpitations ) or an irregular heartbeat ( arrhythmia ).
Other Common Symptoms of Hyperthyroidism:
- Anxiety , depression , and brain fog or loss of mental clarity, are often experienced as a symptom of hyperthyroidism.
- Changes in bowels habits, especially diarrhea and frequent bowel movements, have been reported. Abdominal bloating may also be an associated symptom of hyperthyroidism.
- Changes in menstrual patterns in women have been identified as a symptom of hyperthyroidism. There are some indications that the sex hormones, testosterone and estrogen, levels in men can be affected by a thyroid disorder. " Low T " problems, for instance, may result from the body's inability to convert testosterone to estrogen. Thyroid conditions can interfere in hormonal conversions.
- Fatigue and weakness is a commonly associated symptom of hyperthyroidism and other thyroid and autoimmune conditions.
- If the thyroid gland enlarges as a result of hyperthyroidism, it can appear as a swapping ( goiter ) at the base of the neck. Sometimes this swelling is not clearly visible but wearing ties and scarves around the neck may be uncomfortable.
- Increased susceptibility to heat has been recognized as a hyperthyroidism symptom.
- Two signs associated with hyperthyroidism are dry, thinning hair and skin .
Why is hyperthyroidism overlooked as the source of many common symptoms?
There are three reasons that hyperthyroidism fails to be diagnosed. It is either not considered in a differential diagnosis, the sufferer experiences the symptoms of hyperthyroidism intermittently and may wait to seek treatment, or it is under-diagnosed.
One reason that hyperthyroidism is under-diagnosed can be blamed on lab test interpretation. When a lab value is categorized as within a "normal" range, this means that this lab range number is derived from an average of those having blood work in the past year. This "normal" range is determined using the lab values from supposedly sick people who have had their blood drawn. Obviously, there are flaws with this system so many doctors use functional ranges when interpreting their patient's blood work. This takes a little more effort on the doctor's part because it is not as simple as just looking at either the results are in the normal column or not. Finding a doctor who is cognizant of these functional lab ranges is vital for proper management of thyroid disorders.
Another reason hyperthyroidism is overlooked is that the sufferer may exhibit symptoms similar to other disease processes. For example, a person who complains of persistent diarrhea may be diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome. Another patient may express a depressive disorder and be under care with psychotropic medication. Sometimes, once a label has been given to a set of symptoms the investigation into other causative factors will end. It is then up to the sufferer to continue looking for other diagnostic and treatment options.
There are also many cases where the symptoms of hyperthyroidism will come and go. The person may disregard these symptoms until their condition deteriorates.
Hashimoto's thyroiditis is a condition that exhibits fluctuating thyroid symptoms with bouts of both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism. Hashimoto's was discovered over a century ago but still remains relatively unknown to the American public. It is an autoimmune condition and is characterized by the immune system attacking and slowly destroying the thyroid gland. During an immune system attack, the damaged thyroid gland releases too much thyroid hormone into the body causing metabolism to rev up. This results in the common symptoms of hyperthyroidism ie a fast heart rate, weight loss, etc. When the attack eases, there is less of the thyroid gland left to make hormones so metabolic drops. This causes decreased metabolism. Lab tests will only show what is happening in the body at the time the blood is drawn. Lab values in a patient with Hashimoto's will fluctuate depending on what is happening at that time with the immune system's attack on the thyroid gland. This can make it difficult for an inexperienced medical practitioner to diagnoseose Hashimoto's based on routine bloodwork alone. Specific lab testing can confirm a diagnosis of Hashimoto's thyroiditis.
What are the causes of hyperthyroidism?
There are many causative factors for hyperthyroidism. The most common cause is an autoimmune condition called Graves' disease.
What is Graves' disease ?
Graves' disease is another autoimmune condition and the most common cause of hyperthyroidism. It occurs when the immune system commandeers or hijacks the role of the brain's pituitary gland which normally regulates the thyroid gland's hormone production. The antibody linked to Graves' disease is called thyrotropin receptor antibody or TRAb. TRAb can override the pituitary gland and cause too much production of thyroid hormone resulting in hyperthyroidism.
What are the symptoms of Graves' disease?
The symptoms of Graves' disease reflect the production of too much thyroid hormone being produced. Someone with Graves' disease may display a fine tremor of the hands or fingers. They may also experience warm, clammy skin or increased perspiration. Diarrhea is a common complaint along with frequent loose bowel movements. Some symptoms that are shared by both hypothyroid and hyperthyroid conditions include:
- Menstrual cycle changes
- Reduced libido
There are some overt symptoms of Graves' disease that are pathognomonic or peculiar to this condition. Rarely, people develop Graves' dermopathy which is characterized by thick, red patches of skin usually on the legs and feet. There is also Graves' opthalmopathy which causes bulging eyes, dry / red eyes, excessive tearing, fixed stare, puffy eyelids, pressure or pain around the eyes, light sensitivity, and double vision. More rare symptoms and signs include blurry vision and corneal ulcers.
It seems like the most common causes for both hyperthyroidism (Graves' disease) and hypothyroidism (Hashimoto's thyroiditis) are based in a body's faulty immune system. How can the immune system be treated and can the symptoms of hyperthyroidism be relieved?
The immune system as well as the affected systems of the body can be supported and the symptoms of thyroid conditions can be improved. There is a branch of healthcare called functional medicine that involves all the different functions of the body. By detecting weaknesses in these functions through lab testing, the body's systems can be supported with treatment resulting in improved health.
In practice, we are seeing many more patients, both male and female, with thyroid disorders in general. What is most disconcerting is the younger ages of these patients. Whereas thirty years ago middle-age women were the group most affected, now many seeking treatment are in their teens and 20's.