Are you experiencing weight loss, fatigue, irritability or hair loss?
These are all symptoms that you may have an overactive thyroid.
Identifying an overactive thyroid is important because early detection can prevent long-term damage.
Learn more about the signs and symptoms of an overactive thyroid, what causes this condition, how to treat it and more in this guide...
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What Exactly is an Overactive Thyroid?
An overactive thyroid is exactly as it sounds.
It's the medical condition in the body which results in the overproduction of thyroid hormone from your thyroid gland.
More specifically, patients with an overactive thyroid often present with lower than normal TSH levels (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) and higher than normal Free T3 levels.
Does having a little bit extra thyroid hormone in your body really promote a problem for you?
Won't it lead to weight loss?
Well, maybe, but that doesn't mean it's something that you actually want to happen!
The overstimulation of these important systems may result in some weight loss, but at the cost of several other potentially damaging symptoms as well.
Because of this, you will most definitely want to have your thyroid evaluated and treated (if necessary).
Your thyroid is also important because it acts as the master hormone which helps regulate other hormonal systems in the body.
Small changes in thyroid serum levels may result in big changes in other hormones as well.
This is why patients with thyroid disorders often present with multiple symptoms all across their body.
These problems often start out with symptoms such as heart palpitations (or a rapid heart rate) and change into heart problems such as atrial fibrillation.
The good news is that if you have an overactive thyroid you will present with symptoms which can clue you into what is happening.
These symptoms often cause patients to seek medical care which results in diagnosis and treatment.
How you approach treatment is a different story and one which we will discuss below.
So what kind of symptoms should you expect if you have an overactive thyroid?
Signs and Symptoms your Thyroid is Too Active
Remember that your thyroid helps control the activity of most of the cells and tissues in your body.
This can be a way to help you figure out what is going on.
Imagine if you simply activate or overactive the cells and tissues in your body, how would you react?
Using this logic we can figure out exactly how patients with an overactive thyroid would present:
If you activate your heart cells too much you'll end up with a rapid heart rate or heart palpitations.
If you activate your bones too much you'll increase bone turnover and end up with bone loss and osteoporosis.
If you activate your gastrointestinal tract too much you'll end up with diarrhea or loose stools.
If you activate the neurons in your brain you'll end up with increased brain activity and anxiety or panic attacks.
ALL of these symptoms (and more listed below) tend to be associated with overactive thyroid activity.
You can find the complete list of symptoms associated with an overactive thyroid below:
- Weight loss
- Increased appetite
- Rapid heart rate
- Heart palpitations
- Heart enlargement
- Panic attacks
- Hair loss (often associated with dry brittle hair)
- Menstrual problems (rapid menstrual cycle)
- Warm skin
- Hot flashes
- Feeling jittery
- Protrusion of the eyes (if associated with Graves' disease)
It's also important to understand two things:
#1. Some of these symptoms may be associated with other medical conditions or caused by certain medications.
Common medical conditions, such as Menopause, may cause some similar symptoms such as hair loss, weight gain, and even hot flashes.
The similarity of symptoms between these conditions can be confusing, but the good news is that you can tease out the difference with simple lab tests.
#2. The degree of symptoms that you experience will vary based on the AMOUNT of thyroid hormone you are producing.
This one is very important because some patients may only experience MINOR symptoms compared to other individuals.
Because your symptoms may not be as strong as other people means that you need to be very aware of your body and how you are feeling.
A strong intuition should be used if you suspect you have an overactive thyroid, even if you don't experience all of the symptoms listed above.
You may be in the early stages of developing an overactive thyroid and you might be able to initiate early treatment if you can diagnose your condition early.
Evaluating your thyroid lab tests is an easy way to determine if you have an overactive thyroid.
What Causes an Overactive Thyroid?
Excess thyroid production is most often the cause of an autoimmune disease known as Graves' disease.
This condition results in hyperthyroidism (another name for an overactive thyroid) due to stimulation of the thyroid gland.
In Graves' disease, your body produces antibodies, known as thyroid stimulating immunoglobulin, which attaches to your thyroid gland and initiates the production of thyroid hormone.
Normally, when thyroid levels increase, your body can shut off excess production.
But the presence of these antibodies causes constant stimulation of your thyroid gland which results in the symptoms we listed above.
But Graves' disease is not the only cause of this condition.
Some patients may experience an increase in thyroid hormone from nodules which ignore normal feedback loops.
Other conditions, such as tumors which produce TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) can also initiate the same response.
The conditions we listed above tend to cause a sustained and chronic increase in thyroid hormone over time.
But there are other conditions which temporarily cause an overactive thyroid (some of which can actually completely go away over time without treatment).
These conditions include Thyroiditis (some cases) and excessive supplementation with nutrients such as iodine.
Thyroiditis is worth mentioning because it can cause a very confusing clinical picture and one which causes alternating stages of both an overactive thyroid and an underactive thyroid.
This rollercoaster, which is seen in conditions such as Hashimoto's thyroiditis, can be VERY confusing for patients.
For several weeks they may experience the symptoms associated with an overactive thyroid, but within a few days to weeks they may go in the opposite direction and crash with fatigue, weight gain, depression and so on (symptoms of hypothyroidism).
Some patients may only experience mild symptoms as well, which can make diagnosis difficult.
Most overactive thyroid conditions lead to an underactive thyroid over long periods of time and some may go away with little to no treatment.
You can learn more about thyroiditis here.
Most of the time, however, the causes of an overactive thyroid are not temporary and may require long-term treatment.
How do you Treat it?
The goal of treating an overactive thyroid is two-fold:
First to block thyroid hormone production in an attempt to "normalize" thyroid levels in the body.
And second, to fix the underlying problem (if possible).
Fixing the underlying problem is always the best way to go, but some conditions are not necessarily "fixable".
Even though you may know that your overactive thyroid is caused by Graves' disease you may not be able to get your immune system under control, even with natural therapies and treatments.
Patients who fall into this category may require more long-term treatments such as radioactive iodine ablation or complete removal of the thyroid gland.
You can find a complete list of treatments for overactive thyroid below:
- Beta Blockers - Beta blockers can help reduce the symptoms of hyperthyroidism by blocking thyroid function at the cellular level. Beta blockers help to reduce heart palpitations, tremors and anxiety through this effect. Beta blockers are not a long-term solution for an overactive thyroid but they can help reduce symptoms.
- AntiThyroid Medication - Antithyroid medication (such as Methimazole and PTU) help block thyroid production and thyroid conversion. These medications are primarily used to try and "balance" the thyroid by slowing it down. The difficulty with these medicines is that they are difficult to manage and dose and may lead to over blocking of the thyroid gland and to symptoms of hypothyroidism. Long-term use of these medications may also cause negative side effects. So, while this treatment is effective, it's not necessarily a long-term solution for everyone.
- Complete Thyroidectomy - In some cases, a complete thyroidectomy may be recommended. A thyroidectomy is the surgical removal of part or all of your thyroid gland. If you remove the thyroid gland then you will automatically reduce thyroid hormone production. Removing the thyroid gland leaves the patient reliant upon thyroid medication for life (remember that without thyroid hormone you can die from a myxedema coma). Patients who have their thyroid gland removed switch from having an overactive thyroid to an underactive thyroid (simply because the thyroid has been removed). After this procedure patients will need to have their thyroid medication adjusted and tested frequently.
- Radioactive Iodine Ablation - Or RAI for short is another procedure which causes direct and irreversible damage to the thyroid gland. The goal of this therapy is to destroy the thyroid gland (without taking it out) to prevent thyroid hormone production. Most patients who undergo RAI will require thyroid medication for the rest of their life much like those who have their thyroid removed. In terms of effectiveness, RAI can be compared to a complete thyroidectomy. Both RAI and Thyroidectomy are long-term treatments for hyperthyroidism or an overactive thyroid.
- Natural Therapies - Natural therapies can also be used either by themselves or in conjunction with the other therapies listed above. Natural therapies include dietary changes, supplementation with specific nutrients, the use of certain medications (such as LDN) and the use of high doses of Iodine. You can learn more about natural therapies here.
The exact type of treatment or therapy that you need will depend on your individual situation.
You can discuss all of these options with your current Doctor.
Please also note that not all patients are great candidates for natural treatments for an overactive thyroid.
In some cases, it may be dangerous to forgo conventional hyperthyroid therapies in favor of more natural therapies.
This is especially true in cases such as Thyroid Storm, which is a medical emergency and must be treated rapidly.
Natural therapies are often best when used in conjunction with traditional and conventional therapies.
Is it possible to gain Weight if you have an Overactive Thyroid?
Something that can be confusing to patients is the fact that it is possible to have an overactive thyroid but also experience weight gain.
This is confusing because an overactive thyroid should lead to weight loss, at least that's one of the main symptoms associated with this condition.
So how is it possible to gain weight?
The answer comes when we discuss how an overactive thyroid is treated.
The treatment for hyperthyroidism or excessive thyroid hormone production is to BLOCK this from happening.
What happens if you block thyroid hormone production and conversion?
And this makes sense if you think about it for a minute:
The goal when treating an overactive thyroid is to block how much thyroid hormone your body is using.
But is your Doctor going to be able to perfectly balance thyroid hormone production and conversion in your body with medication?
And the logic goes that as long as you are not overactive it's okay to be a little bit underactive.
But the problem with having an underactive thyroid is that you potentially switch from losing weight to gaining weight.
So the weight gain is from the TREATMENT of your thyroid, not secondary to the overactive thyroid itself.
It's better to think about weight gain as a consequence of treatment rather than a side effect or symptom of having an overactive thyroid.
You can find some tips and tricks to help manage your weight in this post here if you suffer from an overactive thyroid.
Final Thoughts + Your Next Steps
The bottom line?
An overactive thyroid is a potentially serious disease that results from too much thyroid hormone production in your body.
This production is usually caused by an autoimmune disease such as Graves' disease, but it can also be caused by other less common conditions as well.
Occasionally, some patients may experience transient (temporary) bouts of an overactive thyroid with disease states such as Hashimoto's thyroiditis.
It's important to identify an overactive thyroid so that you can undergo proper treatment to prevent long-term damage to your heart and bones.
Natural therapies for hyperthyroidism may work for some people, but be careful when using these therapies.
If you suspect you have an overactive thyroid your next step should be to consult with your physician and get some basic thyroid labs.
Now I want to hear from you:
Are you suffering from the symptoms of an overactive thyroid?
Do you have a diagnosis of Graves' disease or hyperthyroidism?
Are you undergoing treatment and suffering from weight gain?
Leave your comments below!