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What Is Thyrotoxicosis?

A radioactive form of iodine can be used to help treat thyrotoxicosis.
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  • Written By: A. Pasbjerg
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 26 June 2014
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Thyrotoxicosis is a condition that occurs when the thyroid gland emits excessive amounts of thyroid hormone, leading to elevated levels in the bloodstream. The syndrome is often related to hyperthyroidism, where the thyroid gland is overproducing hormones. It can also be caused by certain diseases or conditions that stimulate the thyroid to release extra stored hormones. The two hormones involved are free thyroxine and triiodothyronine.

One of the most common diseases that causes hyperthyroidism leading to thyrotoxicosis is Graves’ disease. This is an autoimmune disorder that causes the thyroid to generate excessive amounts of hormones. It is characterized by enlargement of the thyroid, also referred to as goiter.

Another issue that can frequently cause thyrotoxicosis is thyroiditis, or inflammation of the thyroid. There are various causes of this, including infection and autoimmune diseases. Sometimes women experience postpartum thyroiditis, which leads to hyperthyroidism during the first year after giving birth, though it is usually only for a limited time.

Various other issues can also be the source of thyrotoxicosis. Benign tumors, or thyroid adenomas, and multinodular goiters can become toxic and cause excess hormones to be created. Drugs and radiation treatments can also be contributing factors.

Symptoms of thyrotoxicosis typically include sweating, tremors, and an increased heart rate. Patients may also experience anxiety and oversensitivity to heat. Some sufferers may feel hungrier than usual, but will also lose weight. In the case of Graves’ disease, additional symptoms can include goiter and bulging of the eyes.

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The first step to diagnosis is usually a physical examination. If the patient’s symptoms and physical state indicate thyrotoxicosis, the doctor will likely order a blood test. Low levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone and high levels of thyroxine or triiodothyronine confirm the diagnosis.

There are several treatment options available. Medications that inhibit the thyroid’s hormone production, called thyrostatics, can be used. Beta blockers may also be used, though they only treat the symptoms of thyrotoxicosis, not the cause. Sometimes surgery is recommended to remove some or all of the thyroid. Radioactive iodine can also be used to kill the overproducing cells in the thyroid.

If left untreated, thyrotoxicosis can lead to thyroid storm, or thyrotoxic crisis. This is a very dangerous condition that occurs when hormone levels in the blood reach extremely high levels. Patients experience high blood pressure, accelerated heartbeat, and a high fever. Thyroid storm needs to be treated immediately, as it can lead to death.

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Discuss this Article

zeak4hands
Post 4

@w00dchuck41 - That sounds sinister. I guess breathing in smoke isn't very good for you. Go figure. I wonder how many of the 10 million people with thyroid disorders smoke? According to what you said, only one fifth of smokers get thyroid disorders. That isn't as bad as it could be.

Stress is a common cause for most diseases. It puts a strain on your body because it isn't supposed to be a long term thing. Most people just happen to lead very stressful lives that keep their stress levels high. That's why vacation time is so important.

As for stress causing thyrotoxicosis -- I'm not so sure. How can doctors and researchers tell when everyone is stressed? They would have to look pretty hard to find someone who wasn't worried or stressed about something. It's just our way of life.

w00dchuck41
Post 3

@MedicineBall - The causes for thyrotoxicosis and other types of hyperthyroidism are so common -- it's no wonder that over 13 million people in America have thyroid disorders. Obviously something is wrong with our diet.

The top three causes -- other than plain old radiation -- are stress, smoking and medications.

When you think about it, practically everyone is on medication and is stressed. We even take medication for stress. The amount of smokers is somewhere around 50 million in the US. I'm surprised everyone doesn't have a thyroid disorder!

minthybear19
Post 2

@MedicineBall - I heard about the diet soda thing too. As far as I know, the artificial sweetener aspartame is the one to avoid.

It blocks out some of the glucose from entering your brain, which can make you tired. It is also know to cause headaches and migraines on occasion. Really, you only need to worry about aspartame if you drink a lot of it -- in small quantities, it shouldn't cause a reaction.

The iodine they use to treat thyrotoxicosis is radioactive. I can guess that it's kills the cells before it causes a reaction, but I can't say for sure.

Good luck with your doctor's appointment, I hope all goes well!

MedicineBall
Post 1

I heard that people who have thyrotoxicosis should avoid drinking diet sodas -- something about the artificial sweeteners causing reactions. Does anyone know anything about that and what in diet soda in particular?

I also read that eating high iodine foods like sea food can cause reactions. Why is iodine used to treat the overactive thyroid if it causes reactions? Wouldn't that be counter productive?

If anyone could help, that would be great. I've been worried that I'm developing thyrotoxicosis -- I have a doctor's appointment soon -- so the more I know the better. Hopefully, it's just a over reaction.

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