Can you tell me what hyperthyroidism is?


Can you tell me what hyperthyroidism is? My sister has been diagnosed with the condition and I'd like to know more about it?

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland, which lies in the front of the neck. It produces a hormone which regulates the rate at which our bodies use energy. Excessive amounts of thyroid hormone cause an acceleration of all bodily functions and is called hyperthyroidism.

Although the exact cause of the condition remains unclear, there are various forms of the condition. The most common, Graves disease, causes the formation of abnormal antibodies that stimulate production of thyroid hormone regardless of whether the body needs it or not. Elevated thyroid hormone levels can lead to a range of symptoms that affect all the body's systems.

I've heard it can affect the heart, is this true?

Cardiovascular effects include raised blood pressure and increased heart rate (tachycardia), leading to palpitations, flushing and heart failure. Non-cardiac effects include irritability, difficulty concentrating, insomnia and mood swings. Weight loss, muscle wasting, a bulging of the eyes, fatigue and hand tremors can also be a problem.

She's never been a natural patient and I worry she might not be taking her tablets. What can happen if she does not comply?

The majority of people diagnosed with hyperthyroidism live normal lives once they comply with their treatment regime. A range of drugs are available to treat the condition while the use of radioactive iodine is sometimes used to destroy the overactive thyroid tissue.

In a minority of people, surgical removal of the gland may be indicated. If left untreated or poorly managed, the condition can lead to serious complications, the worst of which is a "thyroid storm", an acute situation where the metabolic rate increases rapidly and all the systems become severely stressed.

The temperature rises as does the heart and respiratory rate leading to a total system collapse, a condition that can be fatal if not treated promptly.

You should encourage your sister to talk to her endocrinologist about her treatment and any reservations she may have about taking medications or their side effects.

Offer to accompany her to her next appointment if she feels in need of some support.