Overactive Thyroid Treatment Options

Medically approved by
Dr Earim Chaudry
Last updated
18th October 2021

In 30 seconds…

Overactive thyroid – or hyperthyroidism – is a condition in which your thyroid produces too many hormones. This can cause symptoms such as irritability, difficulty sleeping, fatigue, and sensitivity to heat.

The good news is that overactive thyroid treatment is reasonably straightforward, and success rates are high. Medications known as thionamides are a popular option, alongside radiotherapy and surgery.

Your treatment will depend on the cause of your hyperthyroidism. As a result, the first step in treatment will be taking a thyroid function test so that doctors can find out the underlying cause.

Let’s Talk about Hyperthyroidism in Men

An overactive thyroid is a condition most commonly associated with women. But while as many as 10 times more women experience the condition than men, men can suffer from it too. And it’s worth knowing your options if it affects you.

While an overactive thyroid – or hyperthyroidism, as it’s technically known – can be a difficult condition to experience, it is manageable. And the good news is that it is perfectly treatable.

Here, we’re talking you through some overactive thyroid treatment options. However, the truth is you won’t be able to manage this condition by yourself. If in doubt, always talk to a healthcare provider.

What is Overactive Thyroid?

An overactive thyroid – also known as hyperthyroidism or thyrotoxicosis – is a condition in which your thyroid produces too many hormones.

Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in your throat that produces the so-called thyroid hormones – namely thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). These hormones are responsible for your heart rate, metabolism, body temperature, and organ function.

If there are too many of these hormones in your system, though, all of these processes speed up – and you can experience some quite unpleasant symptoms.

Note: Don’t confuse an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) with an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism). The latter is much more common and happens when your thyroid gland fails to produce enough thyroid hormones.

Symptoms of hyperthyroidism include:

  • Nervousness and irritability
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Tiredness and weakness
  • Fast heart rate or heart palpitations
  • Weight loss
  • Sensitivity to heat
  • An enlarged thyroid gland, known as a goitre

What Causes an Overactive Thyroid?

Hyperthyroidism happens due to overstimulation, overactivity, or swelling of the thyroid. This can  have several underlying causes, including:

  • Graves’ disease. The most common cause of hyperthyroidism; three-quarters of people with hyperthyroidism have this condition. Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disease that attacks the thyroid. It’s unclear why it happens, but it’s thought to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
  • Thyroid nodules. These are little lumps that develop on your thyroid gland. Usually, they are benign, but they do affect the way your thyroid gland produces hormones. 5% of hyperthyroidism cases are thought to be caused by thyroid nodules.
  • Overactive pituitary gland. Your pituitary gland is a tiny little gland in the base of the brain. It produces a hormone known as thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) that encourages your thyroid to create the necessary hormones. Sometimes, nodules or adenomas on your pituitary gland can cause it to produce too much TSH, meaning your thyroid is overstimulated and therefore makes too much thyroid hormones.
  • Thyroiditis. Swelling or inflammation of the thyroid, this can be both a symptom and a cause of an overactive thyroid.
  • Iodine. If you have nodules on your thyroid already, consuming too much iodine can make these worse. Foods such as cod, tuna, and other seafood, iodine supplements, and medication for heart arrhythmia such as amiodarone all contain iodine.
  • Cancer. It’s a scary word, we know. But, in rare instances, cancers of the thyroid can cause hyperthyroidism.

Managing Hyperthyroidism

Now you understand a little bit about hyperthyroidism, it’s time to see how it can be managed. If you’re experiencing the symptoms, first get diagnosed, then treated. Here’s how.

Diagnosing Hyperthyroidism

Diagnosing hyperthyroidism is pretty straightforward. You’ll need to take a blood test known as a thyroid function test, and you may need to do a scan.

Thyroid Function Test

The thyroid function test is a simple blood test. It measures the thyroid hormone levels in your blood to understand what is going on.

It will test for:

  • Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). That’s the hormone produced by the pituitary gland that stimulates your thyroid. Measuring this tells you whether there is a problem with the thyroid itself or something else upstream.
  • Thyroxine (T4). Measuring thyroxine lets you know whether your thyroid is overactive – as T4 is produced directly by your thyroid.
  • Triiodothyronine (T3). This hormone does the real work. Getting a clear picture of how much T3 you are producing gives you a better sense of your thyroid health.

If you are diagnosed with an overactive thyroid, you will probably need to have continued tests to monitor your thyroid hormone levels over time.

You may be told you have a subclinical overactive thyroid. That means your thyroid is overactive, but you may not need treatment. You will probably require further tests to monitor your progress.

Find out more: Understanding thyroid function test results

Isotope Thyroid Scan

It’s not always clear from your thyroid function test what the underlying cause is. That’s why you may be required to undergo what is known as an isotope thyroid scan.

For this, you’ll need to swallow a bit of a radioactive substance. Sounds scary, but it’s completely safe. What happens is that some of the substance will be absorbed by your thyroid. How much is absorbed will show a doctor whether you have Graves’ disease or nodules, or another cause like cancer, thyroiditis, or excessive iodine.

Overactive Thyroid Treatment

If you’re diagnosed with an overactive thyroid, you’ll be sent to an endocrinologist, a specialist who works with hormones. Usually, they will prescribe one of the following hyperthyroidism treatments:

  • Thionamides. These are antithyroid drugs such as carbimazole, methimazole, or propylthiouracil, which will encourage your thyroid to produce less thyroid hormone. They don’t remove excess from your blood, though, meaning it can take a little while for you to see the difference. Side effects of antithyroid medications can include a rash and joint pain – and, in very rare cases, a slightly weaker immune system.
  • Beta-blockers. Propranolol and atenolol can help reduce symptoms of hyperthyroidism, but they won’t bring the underlying condition under control. Instead, they are usually prescribed while other medications such as thionamides take effect.
  • Radioactive iodine treatment. This is a type of radiotherapy that shrinks your thyroid. Radiotherapy sounds a little daunting, but this type is harmless. You take it as a pill, and it should require only one dose. It’s usually more effective than thionamides, but a possible side effect is that it can sometimes be too effective and cause hypothyroidism. It’s not suitable for breastfeeding or pregnant women, or people with eye problems like double vision.
  • Thyroidectomy. Sometimes, if you have a severe goitre (enlarged thyroid), doctors will recommend thyroid surgery, in which they remove all or part of your thyroid gland. Following the surgery, you’ll have to undergo thyroid treatment for the rest of your life to compensate for the hormones that are no longer being produced.

You won’t need to choose a treatment for thyroid disorders yourself. Specialists will talk you through your options. Success rates for treatment are high.

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Key Takeaways

You have several options available for overactive thyroid treatment. From antithyroid medications such as thionamides to thyroid surgery, specialists will help you understand the best course of action.If you feel like you are experiencing hyperthyroid symptoms, the first thing you need to do is take a thyroid function test. You can get one today at Manual.

While we've ensured that everything you read on the Health Centre is medically reviewed and approved, information presented here is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.

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