What is the thyroid?
The thyroid is a gland in the neck, near the base of the throat. The thyroid gland makes hormones that help control some of the body’s metabolic processes, such as heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature and weight.
What is hyperthyroidism?
Hyperthyroidism (sometimes called thyrotoxicosis) occurs when the thyroid gland is overactive. The most common cause of hyperthyroidism in Australia is Graves’ disease, an autoimmune condition where the immune system stimulates the thyroid to produce too much hormone. Hyperthyroidism can also be caused by the thyroid becoming inflamed (thyroiditis) or by nodules inside the thyroid which become hyperactive.
Symptoms and signs of hyperthyroidism
The most common symptoms of hyperthyroidism are feeling anxious or nervous, being unable to tolerate heat, having heart palpitations, feeling tired and losing weight, even if you’re eating the same amount of food.
Other symptoms and signs can include:
- an enlarged thyroid (goitre)
- eye problems
- increased appetite
- changes in bowel habits or menstrual patterns
- thin skin
- fine, brittle hair
- difficulty sleeping.
See your doctor if you have any of these symptoms.
Your doctor will check your neck to see if your thyroid is enlarged or has nodules (lumps), and will look for other signs of hyperthyroidism such as a fast heart rate.
To diagnose hyperthyroidism, a blood test is done to measure the level of your thyroid hormones. An imaging test called a thyroid scan may also be done.
If you are diagnosed with hyperthyroidism, there are a few different treatments that can be given. Medication can reduce the amount of hormone your thyroid produces, or you could be given radioactive iodine therapy, taken as a single dose to shrink the thyroid. If neither of these treatments is suitable, the thyroid could be removed by surgery although this carries a risk of damaging surrounding glands and nerves.
You could also be prescribed medication to control a fast heart rate and palpitations.
Last reviewed: November 2016