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Treatment of Hyperthyroidism

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Hyperthyroidism can be treated in four ways. However, a physician chooses the line of treatment on the basis of a number of variables like the underlying cause of hyperthyroidism, the age of the patient, the size of the thyroid gland and the presence of coexisting medical illnesses.

Treating the symptoms

Several medications are available for treating the symptoms associated with hyperthyroidism. These drugs are known as beta blockers. Examples of beta blockers are: propranolol (Inderal), atenolol (Tenormin) and metoprolol (Lopressor). The thyroid hormones try to increase the metabolic rate in the body. These medicines treat the symptoms by counteracting the effect of thyroid hormone to increase metabolism. However, they do not alter the levels of thyroid hormones in the blood.

Anti-thyroid Drugs

Anti-thyroid drugs are often used to treat sustained forms of hyperthyroidism, such as Graves' disease or toxic nodular goiter. These drugs prevent the thyroid glands from producing hormones.

The two most common categories of anti thyroid drugs are:

  • Methimazole and
  • Propylthiouracil (PTU)

Both these drugs decrease the functionality of the thyroid gland and reduce the secretion of the thyroid hormone. These drugs are very effective if taken diligently. These drugs are usually very effective in controlling hyperthyroidism within a few weeks.

These drugs at times have side effects like rash, itching, or fever. Though very rarely, some patients under the treatment of these drugs suffer from liver inflammation or a deficiency of white blood cells. It is therefore recommended that patients should stop their medications immediately and visit a physician as soon as he develops symptoms like yellowing of the skin, a high fever, or severe sore throat.

However, the fall side of the anti-thyroid drugs is that the underlying hyperthyroidism often comes back after they are discontinued. Thereby it is always recommended that a patient should opt for the line of treatment that permanently prevents the thyroid gland from producing too much thyroid hormone.


Radioactive Iodine Treatment

The most recommended permanent treatment of hyperthyroidism is radioactive iodine treatment.

Thyroid cells are the only cells in the body which have the ability to absorb iodine. This treatment makes use of this property of the thyroid cells. When the body is exposed to radioactive iodine, the thyroid cells absorb it and get damaged or killed. However, the radioactive iodine does not affect the rest of the body as iodine is not absorbed by any other cells in the body. In fact, radioactive iodine treatment can be taken without getting hospitalized.

This form of treatment is quick and permanent and takes one to two months to eradicate the problem. After, the completion of the treatment, it takes just a few days to completely eradicate the radioactive iodine from the body. Most of the patients get cured with a single dose of radioactive iodine.

The most common side effect of this treatment is hypothyroidism. At times the radioactive iodine kills more thyroid cells than required. The remaining thyroid cells are not able to generate sufficient amount of thyroid hormones. This under activity of the thyroid gland results in hypothyroidism.

Radioactive iodine also interferes with a woman's chances of becoming pregnant and delivering a healthy baby in the future. 


At times surgery procedure is selected to remove a part of the thyroid gland (partial thyroidectomy). With the partial removal of the thyroid, the thyroid hormone production is lowered. The fall side of this treatment is that, if too much tissue of the thyroid gland is removed the production of thyroid becomes abnormally low. As a result the patient is cured from hyperthyroidism but now suffers from hypothyroidism. The patient is then treated with thyroid replacement therapy. At times this surgery disrupts the tissues surrounding the thyroid gland. The nerves supplying the vocal cords and the four tiny glands in the neck that regulate calcium levels in the body (the parathyroid glands) may get damaged. At times the parathyroid glands may get accidentally removed. This results in calcium deficiency and requires calcium replacement therapy.

However, the radioactive iodine therapy is more preferable than surgery. Currently, the surgery procedure is conducted only for pregnant patients and children who have major adverse reactions to anti thyroid medications and for patients with very large thyroid glands. The large thyroid gland of these patients compresses the tissues adjacent to the thyroid resulting in difficulty in swallowing, hoarseness and shortness of breath.

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Written by: Healthplus24 team
Date last updated: July 31, 2012

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