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Hyperthyroidism: Frequently Asked Questions

Sunday, April 21, 2013 - 17:40
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Here are some frequently asked questions related to hyperthyroidism:

Q: I was confused when I asked my doctor about mythyroid hormone level. She talked about T3 and T4. What do these have to do with thyroid hormone?

A: There are two slightly different forms of thyroid hormone that circulate in the bloodstream. One form is abbreviated as T3, which is thyroid hormone with three attached iodine units. The other form is known as T4, which is thyroid hormone with four attached iodine units. Both forms are "thyroid hormone."

Q: I feel really sick with shakiness and have lost a lot of weight. The doctor who diagnosed my hyperthyroidism told me that I am a healthy 38-year-old man with hyperthyroidism. I know this condition can be treated, but how serious is hyperthyroidism?

A: Symptoms associated with hyperthyroidism, including your shakiness and weight loss, are distressing to many people with hyperthyroidism. However, for people like yourself who are generally healthy, treatment for hyperthyroidism usually proceeds as planned and eliminates these bothersome symptoms.

Q: I just learned I have Graves' disease. My cousin was diagnosed with it three years ago and our grandfather had it too. Is this a coincidence?

A: The fact that you, your cousin, and grandfather have Graves' disease is probably not a coincidence. In some families, there is a genetic factor involved in the development of Graves' disease or a tendency toward it and other autoimmune disorders. This may be true in your family. You and your cousin need to speak with other family members about Graves' disease. Then, they can speak with their doctors and have their thyroid function checked.

Q: I was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism 11 years ago and treated with radioactive iodine. My daughter's new friend from England said that I should have been treated with medication the way her sister was treated. Did I make a mistake? I feel fine now.

A: Radioactive iodine is a safe and effective treatment for hyperthyroidism. It is the most common treatment for hyperthyroidism in the United States. In Europe, anti-thyroid medication, a non-surgical approach to the management of hyperthyroidism, is often the treatment of choice. There are benefits and risks to each type of treatment, and these vary depending on a person's age, gender, and general health. If you feel fine and are maintaining proper follow-up with your doctor, don't worry about your treatment choice.

Q: I have severe hyperthyroidism. Drug therapy didn't work for me and I don't like the idea of radioactive iodine. My doctor said that leaves surgery as the only option. The idea of somebody cutting into my neck really frightens me. How serious is this surgery?

A: Removal of most of the thyroid gland is a safe and effective treatment for hyperthyroidism. The overall complication rate is very low. You may be in the hospital for one to two days. One advantage of thyroid surgery is rapid control of hyperthyroidism, which improves the symptoms right away. Discuss the procedure with your surgeon. Be sure that he or she is experienced and skilled in thyroid surgery. Discuss additional personal risk factors, if any, with your surgeon.

Q: I just found out that I'm pregnant and I have Graves' disease and hyperthyroidism. My obstetrician is setting up a consultation for me with an endocrinologist. What about pregnancy and hyperthyroidism?

A: Discuss all of your feelings and concerns with both your obstetrician and your endocrinologist. Take a team approach and have everyone work together to care for you during your pregnancy. You may need anti-thyroid medication during your pregnancy. Infants born to mothers who take anti-thyroid drugs generally have no drug-related complications. However, your thyroid hormone level will need to be monitored closely during your pregnancy. You will probably have to wait until after the baby is born to discuss your long-term treatment plan.

Q: A woman I know at work has a long history of Graves' disease. I noticed that her eyes protrude from her face, now more than ever. I also know that she has trouble with blurred vision. Is there any treatment for this problem?

A: Hyperthyroid eye disease may be very troubling for individuals with Graves' disease. Not only are there symptoms such as blurred vision, but there are also psychological complications due to the change in facial appearance. There are medical and surgical treatments available. If your friend hasn't been evaluated by an ophthalmologist who is familiar with hyperthyroid eye disease, she should consider it. Severe hyperthyroid eye disease may be associated with increased risk for eye infection and other serious eye problems.

Q: I was treated for Graves' disease and hyperthyroidism. I think that my current thyroid hormone level is fine. Should this have any impact on my future medical care?

A: Before your first meeting, doctors typically ask for a detailed medical, family, and drug history. Be sure to tell new doctors about your history of Graves' disease. It is particularly important to know when your thyroid hormone level is high. The warning labels for some over-the-counter medications, including some for the common cold, contain warnings that persons with thyroid disease should check with their physician before taking any medicine. This warning is intended only for those whose thyroid hormone levels are high. It is possible that the medication speeds up the heart rate just like thyroid hormone does. This may lead to a potentially dangerous situation.


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