Hyperthyroidism - When You Have Too Much Thyroid Hormone
I spent most of my time talking about hypothyroidism which is the condition that results in LOW thyroid function.
But what about those people who struggle with the exact opposite condition known as hyperthyroidism?
Well, today is for you guys. If you are someone that has been told that your thyroid is OVERACTIVE or that you are HYPER then this information is for you!
But this information isn't just for those people who have hyperthyroidism.
It actually applies to ALL thyroid patients.
If you have a thyroid condition then you will experience shifts in thyroid function throughout your life.
A lot of people think that if they have hyperthyroidism that they will be in this state for the rest of their life.
This couldn't be farther from the truth!
All of the treatments used to treat hyperthyroidism work by SLOWING down your thyroid!
And all of the treatments used to treat hypothyroidism work by INCREASING your thyroid!
Hopefully, you can imagine a scenario in which this process isn't perfect.
What I mean is that your doctor will never be as good as your own thyroid hormone in balancing your thyroid levels.
It's much more common for your doctor to give you either too much or not enough and to take some time to dial in your dose of whatever medication you are taking.
And during that time, you won't feel like yourself.
The truth is that most thyroid patients fluctuate between states of hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism throughout their life which is why this information is important.
You as a thyroid patient must understand the spectrum of thyroid symptoms that you may experience throughout your life so you can tell, rapidly, what is going on with your thyroid.
With that in mind, let's jump in...
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Hyperthyroid Symptom List:
We are going to go over the symptoms here in just a second but I want to briefly provide a framework that you can use to think about your thyroid symptoms.
When you think about HYPERTHYROIDISM I want you to think about being hyper.
When you are hyper you have a lot of energy, you are amped up, you are jazzed up, you are active, you are moving, you are burning calories, and so on.
All of the symptoms associated with hyperthyroidism tend to rev up your body and pretty much any cell that thyroid hormone touches.
And because pretty much every cell in your body has a thyroid hormone receptor, you will experience symptoms in just about every part of your body.
It may sound like a good thing to be amped up but it isn't, as you will soon find out.
But this framework can help you think about what type of symptoms you may be experiencing when you are in this HYPER state.
#1. Weight loss
One of the first symptoms that thyroid patients experience as their thyroid ramps up is weight loss.
This may sound good but it isn't!
While you may drop some weight on the scale, this weight comes at the cost of muscle mass and even bone loss.
Yes, it is true that you will be losing some fat mass but fat loss that is accompanied by bone loss and muscle loss is less than ideal.
In addition, the weight loss that you may experience will be associated with other symptoms that will ruin whatever brief joy you may experience when you see the scale drop.
The exact opposite effect occurs (1) when your thyroid is low.
Low thyroid results in weight gain and high thyroid results in weight loss.
Often this change in your weight occurs without changing your diet and without altering how much you exercise.
Because the thyroid hormone is so important in regulating your metabolism, this powerful effect trumps pretty much anything else you are doing.
#2. Hair loss
As your thyroid revs up you will start to experience hair loss.
Both low thyroid and high thyroid can result in hair loss but each one is a little bit different.
The hair loss in hyperthyroidism results in fine, brittle hair which then cracks and breaks and then falls out.
The hair loss that occurs in low thyroid tends to come out in clumps and causes thinning of your hair.
It can sometimes be confusing trying to figure out what type of hair loss you have but if you focus on hair quality and texture you should be able to figure it out.
In hyperthyroidism, the hair quality and texture change significantly.
In hypothyroidism, the hair just tends to fall out in clumps.
#3. Rapid menstrual cycle
The average cycle is somewhere around 28 days.
As your thyroid increases, your cycle time will reduce (2).
So instead of having a cycle every 28 days, you may start to cycle every 21 days or 20 days.
I've seen some women cycle as fast as every 10-12 days!
The higher your thyroid goes the more rapid this cycle occurs.
The best thing you can do is keep an eye on your cycle to see if you are noticing a trend toward more rapid cycling.
For instance, if having a 30 day cycle is normal for you then you may start to see your cycle popping up 1-2 days earlier each and every month.
The exact opposite is true for those with low thyroid.
Menstrual cycle length in those with low thyroid is PROLONGED and may occur every 40-45 days (or even longer depending on how low your thyroid is).
And, by the way, this rapid cycling DOES impact fertility which is why women with low thyroid or high thyroid have a very difficult time getting pregnant.
In the case of hyperthyroidism, rapid cycling does not allow for ovulation to occur (3) and you have what is called anovulatory cycles.
Even though it appears you are "cycling", the cycles you do get aren't associated with ovulation (4) which means it's impossible to get pregnant.
Not every cycle is anovulatory but it does increase the rate of these cycles.
If you are trying to get pregnant then fixing your thyroid should be your top priority!
#4. Anxiety and/or Panic Attacks
Increased levels of thyroid hormone also have an impact on your mood.
Most people with hyperthyroidism experience some degree of anxiety (5).
This anxiety can go all of the way up to panic attacks, depending on the person.
Patients with high thyroid often describe a "nervous energy" or "jittery" sensation that just doesn't feel right.
If severe, these sensations can trigger panic attacks as well.
The exact opposite side effect is seen in low thyroid.
Patients with low thyroid tend to experience more depression than they do anxiety.
#5. Rapid heart rate
Your thyroid stimulates pretty much anything that it touches.
So guess what happens if you have too much stimulation of your heart?
You guessed it. It beats faster.
In the medical world, this condition is known as tachycardia which is just a fancy word to describe a rapid heart rate.
You are considered to be tachycardic (6) if your resting heart rate is over 100 beats per minute.
And the word resting is key here.
If your heart rate is 105 and you just got back from a jog then that's not an issue.
But if you just woke up from a good night's sleep and your heart rate is 105 while resting there, you have an issue.
Fortunately, your heart rate can give you valuable information about your thyroid.
Unlike other areas of your body, your heart responds differently to thyroid hormone because it is more sensitive.
This has to do with how thyroid hormone impacts heart cells which is different from how it interacts with other areas of the body.
As a thyroid patient, you can use this to your advantage.
By keeping a close eye on your heart rate you can determine if whatever you are trying to do to your thyroid is working or not.
In the case of hyperthyroidism, you should see a decline in your resting heart rate quickly if you are on the right anti thyroid medication or dose.
On the flip side, you can also use this information if you are hypothyroid and if you are taking thyroid medication.
In the case of low thyroid, the more thyroid medication you take the higher your heart rate will go.
In the case of high thyroid, the more anti thyroid medication you take the lower your heart rate will go.
#6. Heart palpitations
We just spent some time talking about how hyperthyroidism can impact your heart rate.
But what about the FORCE of contraction?
Well, high thyroid levels also impact the force of contraction.
The force of contraction of your heart is how hard the heart is squeezing when it beats.
The rate at which your heart beats just refers to the speed, which is different from the force.
Thyroid hormone causes your heart to beat STRONGER which causes more blood to be pumped out with each beat.
Most people aren't able to tell how strongly their heart is beating but some people can.
And the people who can feel it often feel that force of contraction as a heart palpitation.
Heart palpitations are often associated with a rapid heart rate but they don't have to be (7).
In fact, most people who have heart palpitations get the sensation that their heart is "beating out of their chest" but when you check their heart rate it's often very normal.
In the case of high thyroid, though, they do tend to go together more often than not.
People who experience palpitations often go straight to the doctor because the sensation is unpleasant.
Fortunately, though, a heart palpitation is usually not dangerous by itself but it may be an early indication that something is off so it can be helpful.
One of the first signs that people experience as their thyroid increases is a tremor in their hands.
This is easily spotted by just holding your hand steady away from your body.
If you see that your hand is shaking or has a fine tremor to it, then that is an early sign that your thyroid is too high.
It's also one of the first signs that go away when you are taking anti thyroid medication to treat a high thyroid.
Slowing down your thyroid will resolve the hand tremor almost immediately.
#8. Sweating and/or Hot flashes
Next up, as your thyroid gets too high you may start to experience changes in your body temperature.
Rapid shifts in your body temperature can result in sweating as well as hot flashes.
Let's put this together:
Imagine that your heart rate is higher than it should be and that you are burning more calories than normal, even while sitting still.
What do you think will happen in your body?
All of that extra heat you are producing will cause you to sweat!
If you find that you're sweating while calmly sitting down in an air conditioned room then that is a problem.
A hot flash is a little bit different.
In a hot flash, you will feel like your body is under extreme heat and is often most noticeable in the face, neck, or chest area.
A hot flash is very uncomfortable and if you experience one then you will probably go straight to a fan or the air conditioner to try and cool down your body.
Hot flashes can come and go and usually don't last very long but they are hard to miss because they will make you feel very uncomfortable.
Other medical conditions, such as menopause (8), can trigger hot flashes as well, so be aware of that.
Hot flashes and sweating often lead to the next topic on our list...
#9. Heath intolerance
And that's heat intolerance.
Heat intolerance just means that you find the heat intolerable.
In other words, the heat bugs you so much that you have to get up and move to get away from it or do whatever you can to cool down your body.
Heat intolerance is a sign of an overactive thyroid.
Cold intolerance, on the other hand, is a sign of an underactive thyroid.
Fatigue can be a little bit counterintuitive so let me explain.
You might think that because your thyroid controls energy production and because a high thyroid state results in more energy production in your cells that you would have tons of energy.
It doesn't quite work that way.
While it may be true that your body is producing more energy, it is also true that pretty much every cell in your body is revved up.
You can imagine that the revving up of the entire system will cause a toll on the body.
And this toll is often experienced as fatigue or low energy.
Both low thyroid and high thyroid cause fatigue but the fatigue is a little bit different in each type.
The fatigue felt in high thyroid is more of a run-down sensation like you are firing on all cylinders for too long.
The fatigue felt in low thyroid is more of an "I can't get up to do anything" type of fatigue where you just don't have energy to get out of bed.
Lastly, people with an overactive thyroid often have a lot of trouble sleeping.
You can imagine if your body is burning more calories, if your heart is beating more rapidly, if you are sweating, if you are having hot flashes, if your metabolism is revved up, and so on, that it might be hard to get some rest.
And you would be right.
A lot of patients with hyperthyroidism often end up with insomnia or trouble sleeping at night.
This should go away as you slow down your thyroid either with medications or with other treatments, though.
Hypothyroidism vs Hyperthyroidism - What's the Difference?
If hyperthyroidism is all about being amped up and jazzed up then you can think about hypothyroidism as being the exact opposite.
If you are in a HYPOTHYROID state then everything is slow and sluggish.
Imagine wading through thick slime or mud. You can still move forward but you can't do it nearly as fast as you could if it was water or air.
In this sluggish state EVERYTHING that your thyroid touches will be slowed down.
Your brain function, your metabolism, your hair growth, your energy, and your activity level.
If everything is slowed down then it's easy to see that the symptoms of being HYPO are nearly the exact opposite of being HYPER (which is what we just talked about).
Even though the distinction is very different between these two conditions there is still a LOT of confusion surrounding thyroid function in patients who are hyperthyroid.
Because most HYPERTHYROID patients will eventually end up HYPOTHYROID later in their life.
How can this be?
Well, all of the treatments that doctors use to treat an overactive thyroid result in low thyroid function either in the short term or the long term.
And some of these treatments are permanent.
If you are someone with hyperthyroidism and you have had your thyroid completely removed or ablated with radioactive iodine then guess what?
You are no longer hyperthyroid, instead, you are now hypothyroid.
And it's these very issues that result in confusion for patients in your shoes.
This very reason is why most of the information you see on my website is directed at people with HYPOTHYROIDISM.
Because pretty much everyone, even those with hyperthyroidism, will end up hypothyroidism and the same information applies to them.
Don't get obsessed with your initial diagnosis.
Instead, focus on what is happening with your thyroid RIGHT NOW.
Wrapping it up
Regardless of the type of thyroid problem that you have, you want to have a good understanding of both high thyroid symptoms and low thyroid symptoms.
I can almost guarantee that whatever therapy or medication that you are taking will require some fine-tuning or adjusting by your doctor.
During this time you may realize that you are taking too much or too little which WILL impact your symptoms.
You can then use these symptoms to figure out if you need more or less.
Your body normally does this without you even thinking about it and, when healthy, it does a really good job.
Your doctor, on the other hand, no matter how good he/she is, will never be as good as your own thyroid gland.
Now I want to hear from you:
Are you experiencing any of the symptoms of a high thyroid?
Do you have some of the symptoms on this list but not others?
Have you been able to use these symptoms to help direct or guide your treatment?
Let me know in the comments below!
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