Do you feel like you’re constantly living on a fast-moving thrill ride, where your heart races, your palms are sweaty, and your hands are shaking? Or like you’re driving a racecar around the track at a million miles an hour? Are you having crippling panic attacks, complete with heart palpitations, breathlessness, and constant sweating?
It may feel as if you’re losing your mind. But, in fact, you may be suffering from hyperthyroidism.
Your thyroid gland is like the body’s energy factory. When it’s operating effectively, you feel energetic, healthy, and in control. But when the thyroid begins to overwork and make too much thyroid hormone, as in hyperthyroidism, you may feel overwhelmed, like you are spinning out of control, and like everything is closing in on you.
Every cell in the body requires thyroid hormones. But it takes the right amount of thyroid hormones, in a careful balance, for the body to function properly. Too little thyroid hormone, and the body slows down. Too much thyroid hormone, and everything speeds up, including your heartbeat, your breathing, your perspiration, your digestive system, and more.
Patients who are hyperthyroid describe crippling panic attacks, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, persistent diarrhea, irritability, hair falling out in handfuls, constant sweating, extreme muscle fatigue, and insomnia that leads to relentless exhaustion.
Does this sound like you?
What is Hyperthyroidism?
The thyroid makes two important hormones – Triiodothyronine (T3) and Thyroxine (T4). Hyperthyroidism occurs when the body makes too much of one or both of these hormones.
Hyperthyroidism is fairly common, occurring in nearly 1% of the U.S. population, and affecting nearly 300,000 people annually. Women are eight times more likely to develop hyperthyroidism than men. While hyperthyroidism typically affects patients over the age of 60, it also affects a smaller percentage of people between 40 to 60 years of age, and can even affect children.
One of the biggest challenges for patients can be getting the right diagnosis or even finding the right doctor. Patients with hyperthyroidism can appear to have symptoms typically seen with anxiety and depression. As many as 12% of hyperthyroid patients report symptoms almost identical to an anxiety or depressive disorder, including heart palpitations, chest pain, nervousness, hand tremors, weight fluctuation, and sleeplessness.
Proper thyroid hormone levels aren’t important only for your rate of energy, heartbeat and metabolism. A number of serious health conditions can be caused by or associated with excess thyroid hormones, including heart problems, eye problems, brittle bones, and red, swollen skin. Hyperthyroidism also puts a patient at risk of a thyrotoxic crisis, which can be life threatening.
What causes hyperthyroidism?
Hyperthyroidism can be caused by a number of conditions, including thyroiditis, Grave’s disease, Plummer’s disease, thyroid nodules, benign thyroid tumors, and even some medications.
Most often, the entire thyroid gland is responsible for the overproduction of thyroid hormones. But in some patients, abnormal lumps or growths in the thyroid gland, called nodules, can cause an enlargement of the thyroid, and may produce too much thyroid hormone.
Thyroiditis, or inflammation of the thyroid gland, can also lead to the release of excess thyroid hormone. Thyroiditis is often caused by an autoimmune reaction, or a bacterial or viral infection in the thyroid, but it is not always known what causes thyroiditis.
Hyperthyroidism can also be the result of Graves’s disease, an autoimmune disorder where the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the thyroid as if it is a foreign object. Grave’s disease is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism, and often is genetically related.
Postpartum thyroiditis (PPT), a temporary but fairly common thyroid disorder, occurs in five to ten percent of women during the year following childbirth. PPT has several phases, the first of which is hyperthyroidism, typically followed by hypothyroidism. PPT is thought to be a variation of the autoimmune disorder known as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
Other risk factors that can lead to hyperthyroidism include a family history of hyperthyroidism or Grave’s disease, previous treated or untreated thyroid problems (including nodules, goiter, hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, or thyroid cancer), previous thyroid surgery, or another autoimmune disease. (Patients with one autoimmune disease are often found to have more than one.)
What are the symptoms of hyperthyroidism?
Hyperthyroid patients typically experience symptoms such as anxiety, insomnia, weight loss, rapid heartbeat, sweating, diarrhea, and eye or vision changes. But there is a wide range of symptoms that occur when bodily functions speed up due to excess thyroid hormones.
Are you experiencing any of these symptoms?
- Nervousness or anxiety
- Rapid heart rate
- Heart palpitations (rapid, forceful, or irregular heartbeat)
- Increased sweating
- Increased appetite
- Heat intolerance
- Difficulty concentrating
- Irregular menstrual periods (or none at all)
- Frequent bowel movements or diarrhea
- Weight loss
- Hair loss
- Weakness or muscle fatigue
- Vision changes, including protruding eyes
- Panic attacks or anxiety disorder
- And more
Fortunately, you don’t have to live your life feeling out of control. There is hope, and you can feel better. Dr. Pierotti is specially trained to recognize and treat even the most complex thyroid disorders. By using cutting-edge patient testing and integrative treatment solutions, we can help you regain your control and enjoy a calm, peaceful, healthy life.
What tests do I need?
The most commonly used test to screen for thyroid disorders is the TSH, or Thyroid Stimulating Hormone test. But this test actually measures how well the pituitary is “talking” to the thyroid gland, rather than measuring actual thyroid hormones. A range of tests is necessary to properly diagnose hyperthyroidism, including measuring levels of T4, T3, Free T4 and Free T3. Other tests that might be useful include measuring thyroid antibodies, as well as conducting a radioactive iodine uptake test and a thyroid scan.
At Anti-Aging and Longevity, we specialize in comprehensive testing and evaluation, including specialized testing of antibodies, as well as Free T4, Free T3, Reverse T3, Sex Hormone Binding Globulin (SHGB), computerized testing of tissue thyroid levels, and basal metabolic rate (metabolism). These tests can help us determine if you are suffering from hyperthyroidism, and can help us get you on the road to wellness.
What are my treatment options?
Many doctors will take a wait-and-see approach to hyperthyroidism, and will treat symptoms only if they are uncomfortable. But hyperthyroidism can lead to more serious problems, so you may still need treatment even if your symptoms do not bother you.
The most common treatments for hyperthyroidism aim to reduce the level of thyroid hormones produced by the thyroid. Typical treatment options include antithyroid medications, beta blockers, radioactive iodine, and surgery. Antithyroid medicines work best if your symptoms are mild. These medications prevent your thyroid gland from producing excess amounts of hormones without damaging the thyroid gland.
Beta blockers can help reduce symptoms of hyperthyroidism, including rapid heart rate and palpitations, but they do not reduce thyroid hormone levels.
Radioactive iodine, taken by mouth, is absorbed by the thyroid and causes the gland to shrink. This causes thyroid activity to slow considerably. However, this may also cause the opposite problem – hypothyroidism – requiring lifelong treatment with thyroid hormone.
Surgery, or thyroidectomy, is an option in few cases, and should be the last option explored. This surgery removes most of the thyroid gland and carries major risks, including damage to the vocal cords and parathyroid glands, which control the levels of calcium in your body. Removal of the thyroid gland leaves the patient in a hypothyroid condition, which requires lifelong treatment with thyroid hormones.
Not So Common Treatments
While radioactive iodine treatment and antithyroid medications are the treatments doctors use most often, our cutting-edge therapies also include the addition of important nutritional supplements that can regulate thyroid balance, reduce inflammation, and improve immune system functions, all of which can be helpful in hyperthyroidism and Grave’s disease.
Scientific studies have shown that selenium deficiency can play a role in autoimmune thyroid disorders. Taking selenium supplements can often reduce antibody levels and improve the inflammatory activity seen in autoimmune thyroiditis.
L-carnitine has also been shown to play an important role in thyroid disease. Recent clinical studies have shown that increased thyroid activity may create an increased cellular need for carnitine. The studies showed that L-carnitine supplement helped prevent or reverse muscle weakness and other symptoms in hyperthyroid patients. Preliminary findings also suggest that L-carnitine may help protect against the lethal threat of thyroid storm. Low Dose Naltrexone (LDN) has also shown to be very effective for autoimmune diseases, including Grave’s disease. Many patients on Low Dose Naltrexone report significant lowering of their anti-thyroid antibodies.
Treating immune system dysfunction and taking steps to improve immune system strength can also be beneficial for hyperthyroid patients with Grave’s disease. This can include identifying and treating any chronic viral or bacterial infections that might be causing immune dysfunction, treating intestinal inflammation or “leaky gut,” and taking immune-boosting supplements.
Proper treatment of hyperthyroidism is critical. If left untreated, hyperthyroidism can lead to serious health problems. Some of the most serious risks of nontreatment include heart problems such as congestive heart failure, and atrial fibrillation, a dangerous arrhythmia that can cause strokes. Untreated hyperthyroidism can also lead to brittle bones and serious eye problems that include bulging eyes, blurred or double vision, and even vision loss.
One of the most serious health issues related to untreated hyperthyroidism is “thyroid storm.” Thyroid storm results from untreated, extreme hyperthyroidism, usually brought on by a stress such as trauma or infection. During thyroid storm, the patient’s heart rate, blood pressure, and fever climb to uncontrollably high levels. Thyroid storm can develop and worsen quickly, and requires treatment within hours to avoid fatal complications such as a stroke or heart attack. This is a life-threatening condition that should be treated as a medical emergency.
Beginning proper treatment for hyperthyroidism is important, even if symptoms are mild. Left untreated, hyperthyroidism can cause serious health issues, including congestive heart failure and stroke.
The Anti-Aging, Longevity, and Preventive Medicine Center of Pittsburgh
5840 Ellsworth Avenue, Suite 304
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15232