Wellness & Fitness

When your thyroid goes into overdrive


Do you experience rapid heartbeats, unusual sweating, heat intolerance, insomnia, anxiety symptoms, mood lability, thinning of hair, skin changes especially darkening and hardening of the skin at the shins and ankles, disappearing or scanty periods for women? Then you could be suffering from hyperthyroidism.

This is a condition normally characterised by the overproduction of thyroid hormones by the thyroid gland.

What are the common symptoms to look out for?

Thyroid hormone plays a crucial role in regulating various body functions. When the thyroid hormone is in excess, it tends to affect different systems in the body.

In the central nervous system, it can cause tremors, muscle weakness, mood lability as well as anxiety. Within the eye, it causes a condition called grave’s disease which affects the muscles as well as causes excess fats deposition at the back of the eyeball, causing the eyes to pop-out.

In the heart, hyperthyroidism can cause a very rapid heart rate and can lead to heart failure in the long run. It can also cause an abnormal heart rhythm.

In the gastrointestinal tract, we normally tend to have increased motility of the gastrointestinal system which can lead to an increased frequency of loose stool.

Looking at the genitourinary tract in women, for instance, it can affect their fertility by making periods/menstruation become scant or disappear for long. It can also lead to first-trimester pregnancy losses.

Other body parts like the skin will tend to get some characteristic skin changes such as darkening and hardening of the skin. This is seen in the anterior aspect of the shins and ankles.

Hyperthyroidism also has psychiatric manifestations. For instance, you can get manic episodes, restlessness, and insomnia.

There’s also significant unexplained weight loss which is normally due to an increase in the basal metabolic rate in the setting of hyperthyroidism.

What are some symptoms that are easy to miss?

In the early stages of hyperthyroidism, the eye signs can be missed out. Sometimes the rapid heart rate may not be picked up quite early and sometimes people may not exhibit any swelling of the thyroid gland commonly known as a goiter.

It is also possible to have manifestations of hyperthyroidism without a goiter.

What are the risk factors for hyperthyroidism?

Family history is a strong risk factor. History of having positive thyroid antibodies Having other autoimmune conditions such as lupus, type 1 diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis Women are more predisposed to developing hypothyroidism compared to men.

Its approximately 3-4 times more common in women than men usually due to high estrogen levels. There are other medications used that may contain iodine that is used to manage abnormal heart rhythms, which can predispose one to hyperthyroidism.

Can you protect yourself from this condition?

It may not be possible to directly protect yourself from hyperthyroidism but the key thing is to know if you have any significant risk factors mentioned above. It is advisable to monitor your thyroid function test frequently to ensure you don’t lapse into hyperthyroidism.

Dr Erick Njenga is a Consultant Physician and Endocrinologist at Aga Khan University Hospital