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The thyroid gland is located at the base of the neck, in front of the trachea (windpipe) and esophagus (tube
that connects the mouth with the stomach). The thyroid produces thyroid hormone,
which helps to regulate many body functions. In hyperthyroidism, the thyroid is overactive and produces more thyroid hormone than
the body needs. Women are more likely than men to have hyperthyroidism, and
it affects younger persons more than elderly persons. The July 6, 2005, issue
of JAMA includes an article about hyperthyroidism
and the long-term effects of radioactive iodine treatment for hyperthyroidism.
More than 70% of cases of hyperthyroidism are related to Graves disease, an autoimmune disorder in
which the body produces antibodies to its own tissues. These antibodies cause
the thyroid to make too much thyroid hormone. Some persons with Graves disease
develop an eye condition called exophthalmos, in
which the eyes begin to protrude because of swelling of tissues behind the
eye. This is usually mild. Smoking cigarettes greatly increases the risk of
a more severe eye problem among persons with Graves disease. Other medical
problems that can cause hyperthyroidism are toxic nodular
goiter (areas of the thyroid enlarge and make too much thyroid hormone),
subacute thyroiditis (inflammation of the thyroid), exposure to iodine in
medications or x-ray dyes, and postpartum thyroiditis (inflammation
of the thyroid after a pregnancy).
Weight loss without eating less or exercising more
Palpitations (rapid heart rate) or abnormal heart
Heat intolerance and sweating
Tremors (jitteriness of the hands)
Eyes that appear to protrude
Symptoms may be less severe or even absent in older persons with hyperthyroidism.
Your medical history and a physical examination may indicate the possibility
of hyperthyroidism. Simple blood tests show the presence of too much thyroid
hormone as well as an abnormally low level of the hormone called TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone). A thyroid
scan may be performed using an injection or pill containing a small amount
of radioactive material. This test looks for areas of abnormal function within
the thyroid gland.
Treatment of hyperthyroidism depends on the cause. Graves disease may
be treated with medications known as antithyroid drugs, radioactive iodine,
or surgery to remove the thyroid gland.
For more information
The Hormone Foundation 800/HORMONE (467-6663)http://www.hormone.org
American Thyroid Association 800/THYROID
Thyroid Foundation of America 800/832-8321 http://www.allthyroid.org
To find this and previous JAMA Patient Pages, go to the Patient Page
link on JAMA's Web site at http://www.jama.com. A Patient Page on hypothyroidism was published in the December 10,
2003, issue; and one on thyroid nodules was published in the December 1, 2004,
Sources: The Hormone Foundation, American Thyroid Association, Thyroid
Foundation of America
The JAMA Patient Page is a public service of JAMA. The information and recommendations appearing on this page are appropriate
in most instances, but they are not a substitute for medical diagnosis. For
specific information concerning your personal medical condition, JAMA suggests that you consult your physician. This page may be photocopied
noncommercially by physicians and other health care professionals to share
with patients. To purchase bulk reprints, call 718/946-7424.
TOPIC: ENDOCRINE DISORDERS
Torpy JM, Lynm C, Glass RM. Hyperthyroidism. JAMA. 2005;294(1):146. doi:10.1001/jama.294.1.146