What Does Hyperthyroidism Do to You, and Can You Avoid It?
Out of all the glands in the human body, the thyroid is one of the most far-reaching. This is because it is responsible for producing the thyroid hormones triiodothyronine (T-3) and thyroxine (T-4), which directly impact every cell in the body.
Typically, the thyroid is skillful at ensuring these hormones are balanced, but sometimes things can go awry.
When the thyroid releases too much T-3 and T-4, a condition known as hyperthyroidism develops. The detrimental affliction causes a breakdown in the body's ability to perform essential functions.
"The good news is that hyperthyroidism is treatable," said Mandy Armitage, M.D., the Westfield, Indiana-based medical director of editorial services with GoodRx. "However, hyperthyroidism can progress and cause serious issues with the heart, fertility and vision if not treated properly."
Living and dating with hyperthyroidism
Since hyperthyroidism symptoms affect people at varying degrees, navigating life comes at equally varied levels of difficulty. Some patients may need to undergo a treatment regimen that can include invasive procedures and occur continuously over a period of time, with regular check-ins with a specialist and ongoing medication.
Others can achieve symptom management with the right combination of medication and medical consultation. It all depends on the course of action determined by an endocrinologist or primary care doctor and the patient.
For the most part, as long as people with hyperthyroidism strictly follow their treatment plan and some general guidelines, the prognosis is good, with minimal expected impact on daily functioning. Unintentional weight loss is a common symptom, so patients are advised to closely monitor their weight. They may need a dietician to prepare an appropriate weight-rehabilitative meal plan.
Doctors sometimes advise avoiding consuming or using products high in iodine because it is suggested that elevated levels make hyperthyroidism worse. Smoking should be avoided because it both intensifies condition severity and increases the likelihood of developing conditions such as thyroid eye disease (TED) and cardiovascular problems.
With a little compassion and understanding, a healthy relationship is well within the realm of possibility for people with hyperthyroidism. It's always difficult to live with a chronic illness, and certain hyperthyroidism symptoms can be frustrating in a romantic relationship. Facilitate open communication, where both parties can ask questions and receive support.
"Beyond impacting sexual wellness, hyperthyroidism can impact your mood," Armitage said. "Symptoms include fatigue and irritability which, if left untreated, may affect relationships."
Hyperthyroidism, sexual health and pregnancy
Anyone with hyperthyroidism can experience negative consequences concerning sexual health, though they are more common in females.
"Women with hyperthyroidism may have decreased libido and pain with sex," Armitage said. "Men with hyperthyroidism can also experience diminished libido, as well as ejaculatory [problems] and erectile dysfunction (ED)."
The thyroid plays a role in modulating female reproductive hormones and the menstrual cycle. An excess of hormones can lead to irregular periods and obstacles to becoming pregnant, which is further exacerbated if women are already experiencing hyperthyroidism symptoms such as unintended weight loss.
Women who are able to conceive frequently experience complications such as premature birth, fetal cardiac impairments, preeclampsia and miscarriage. These issues occur even more during times of significant hormonal shifts, namely after pregnancy or menopause.
In males, hyperthyroidism has been shown to cause several sexual complications. It may harm sperm quality and reduce testosterone levels, which in turn can affect fertility. Sperm may have structural defects or lowered potency, and many men experience premature ejaculation.
Though diminished libido is less common for males than females, some reports have suggested it occurs. This may be due in part to the effects of psychological and physical distress caused by hyperthyroidism.
Complications and related conditions
The degree of impairment stemming from hyperthyroidism is subjective and often relies on personal health patterns. Left untreated, it will continue to worsen. Progression will depend on the cause of hyperthyroidism and whether the condition is treated, according to Sarah Musleh, M.D., an endocrinologist and a co-founder of Anzara Health in Miami.
Osteoporosis is often a consequence, along with heart problems such as atrial fibrillation and hypertension. Research suggests hyperthyroidism itself doesn't raise the risk of mortality, but it is linked to elevated chances of all-cause and cardiovascular mortality.
Thyroid eye disease is a major complication caused by hyperthyroidism. It happens mainly in people whose condition is caused by Graves' disease, an autoimmune condition that is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism. Symptoms involve various ocular disturbances, such as eye-bulging, double vision, pain and dryness, and severe cases may lead to vision loss.
Though it is rare, advanced cases of hyperthyroidism can induce a thyroid storm, a life-threatening medical emergency. During an episode, the thyroid suddenly releases a flood of hormones, initiating a sequence of reactions that includes fever, rapid heartbeat, diarrhea, confusion and fainting.
If you or someone else is suspected to be experiencing a thyroid storm, call 911 immediately.
Prevention and aftercare of hyperthyroidism
Unfortunately, it is not possible to prevent hyperthyroidism. There are, however, numerous ways to keep things well-managed. Anti-thyroid medications and beta blockers are helpful for symptom reduction, so if someone is prescribed medication, adherence is essential. In some cases, people are able to eventually wean off of prescriptions.
Anyone who has undergone radioiodine therapy or a thyroidectomy must be vigilant toward signs of hypothyroidism, as a majority of those people go on to develop it.
For the best outcome, see an endocrinologist right away upon diagnosis. This will provide crucial information about test results and how to follow individualized treatment plans. People should consult their doctors or seek a second opinion if symptoms don't lessen or they are unsatisfied with current methods.
Resources for patients and caregivers
Hyperthyroidism can be burdensome, but help is available for everyone affected. Do not hesitate to seek medical advice if the disease is suspected, since early intervention is always best for future outcomes. Develop a support system and a competent treatment team—you don't have to tackle this by yourself.
Both Armitage and Musleh named the American Thyroid Association (ATA) as an abundant resource for education and treatment, and Musleh said it's important to use your own primary care doctor or endocrinologist for consultation.
"The Endocrine Society is also a great resource to learn more about hormones and the role they play in bodily functions," Armitage said. "Another great resource is the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases."