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"A condition caused by the effects of too much thyroid hormone on tissues of the body"

Hyperthyroidism occurs when your thyroid gland produces too much thyroid hormone called thyroxine. Hyperthyroidism has three forms that share several symptoms. Hyperthyroidism usually happens between the ages of 20 and 40. It often starts after times of extreme stress or during pregnancy.

In healthy people, the thyroid makes just the right amounts of two hormones, T4 and T3, which have important actions throughout the body. These hormones regulate many aspects of our metabolism, eventually affecting how many calories we burn, how warm we feel, and how much we weigh. In short, the thyroid "runs" our metabolism. These hormones also have direct effects on most organs, including the heart which beats faster and harder under the influence of thyroid hormones. Essentially all cells in the body will respond to increases in thyroid hormone with an increase in the rate at which they conduct their business.

Hyperthyroidism is a condition caused by the effects of too much thyroid hormone on tissues of the body. Although there are several different causes of hyperthyroidism, most of the symptoms that patients experience is the same regardless of the cause. Because the body's metabolism is increased, patients often feel hotter than those around them and can slowly lose weight even though they may be eating more. The weight issue is confusing sometimes since some patients actually gain weight because of an increase in their appetite.

Patients with hyperthyroidism usually experience fatigue at the end of the day, but have trouble sleeping. Trembling of the hands and a hard or irregular heartbeat (called palpitations) may develop. These individuals may become irritable and easily upset. When hyperthyroidism is severe, patients can suffer shortness of breath, chest pain, and muscle weakness. Usually the symptoms of hyperthyroidism are so gradual in their onset that patients don't realize the symptoms until they become more severe. This means the symptoms may continue for weeks or months before patients fully realize that they are sick. In older people, some or all of the typical symptoms of hyperthyroidism may be absent, and the patient may just lose weight or become depressed.

There are several causes of hyperthyroidism. Most often, the entire gland is overproducing thyroid hormone. This is called “Graves Disease”. Less commonly, a single nodule is responsible for the excess hormone secretion. The most common underlying cause of hyperthyroidism is Graves' disease, a condition named for an Irish doctor who first described the condition. This condition can be summarized by noting that an enlarged thyroid (enlarged thyroids are called goiters) is producing way too much thyroid hormone. Remember that only a small percentage of goiters produce too much thyroid hormone, the majority of thyroid goiters actually become large because they are not producing enough thyroid hormone.

Graves' disease is classified as an autoimmune disease, a condition caused by the patient's own immune system turning against the patient's own thyroid gland. The hyperthyroidism of Graves' disease, therefore, is caused by antibodies that the patient's immune system makes which attach to specific activating sites on thyroid gland which in turn cause the thyroid to make more hormone.

There are actually three distinct parts of Graves' disease: (1) overactivity of the thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism), (2) inflammation of the tissues around the eyes causing swelling, and (3) thickening of the skin over the lower legs (pretibial myxedema). Most patients with Graves' disease, however, have no obvious eye involvement. Their eyes may feel irritated or they may look like they are staring.

About one out of 20 people with Graves' disease will suffer more severe eye problems, which can include bulging of the eyes, severe inflammation, double vision, or blurred vision. If these serious problems are not recognized and treated, they can permanently damage the eyes and even cause blindness. Thyroid and eye involvement in Graves' disease generally run a parallel course, with eye problems resolving slowly after hyperthyroidism is controlled.


Common symptoms and signs of hyperthyroidism:

  • Palpitations

  • Heat intolerance

  • Nervousness

  • Insomnia

  • Breathlessness

  • Increased bowel movements

  • Light or absent menstrual periods

  • Fatigue

  • Fast heart rate

  • Trembling hands

  • Weight loss

  • Muscle weakness

  • Warm moist skin

  • Hair loss

  • Staring gaze

Characteristics of Graves Disease:

  • Graves Disease effects women much more often than men (about 8:1 ratio, thus 8 women get Graves Disease for every man that gets it.

  • Graves Disease is often called diffuse toxic goiter because the entire thyroid gland is enlarged, usually moderately enlarged, sometimes quite big.

  • Graves disease is uncommon over the age of 50 (more common in the 30's and 40's)

  • Graves Disease tends to run in families (not known why)

Other Less Common Causes of Hyperthyroidism:

Hyperthyroidism can also be caused by a single nodule within the thyroid instead of the entire thyroid. As outlined in detail on our nodules page, thyroid nodules usually represent benign (non-cancerous) lumps or tumors in the gland. These nodules sometimes produce excessive amounts of thyroid hormones. This condition is called "toxic nodular goiter". The picture on the right is an iodine scan (also simply called a thyroid scan) which shows a normal sized thyroid gland (shaped like a butterfly). This scan is abnormal because a solitary "hot" nodule is located in the right lower lobe. This single nodule is comprised of thyroid cells which have lost their regulatory mechanism which dictates how much hormone to produce. Without this regulatory control, the cells in this nodule produce thyroid hormone at a dramatically increased rate causing the symptoms of hyperthyroidism.

Inflammation of the thyroid gland, called thyroiditis, can lead to the release of excess amounts of thyroid hormones that are normally stored in the gland. In subacute thyroiditis, the painful inflammation of the gland is believed to be caused by a virus, and the hyperthyroidism lasts a few weeks. A more common painless form of thyroiditis occurs in one out of 20 women, a few months after delivering a baby and is, therefore, known as postpartum thyroiditis. Although hyperthyroidism caused by thyroiditis causes the typical symptoms listed on our introduction to hyperthyroidism page, they generally last only a few weeks until the thyroid hormone stored in the gland has been exhausted. For more about thyroiditis see our page on this topic.

Hyperthyroidism can also occur in patients who take excessive doses of any of the available forms of thyroid hormone. This is a particular problem in patients who take forms of thyroid medication that contains T3, which is normally produced in relatively small amounts by the human thyroid gland. Other forms of hyperthyroidism are even rarer.

Nutritional support

Foods that depress the thyroid include broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, spinach, turnips, soy, beans, and mustard greens. Avoid refined foods, dairy products, wheat, caffeine, and alcohol.

  • Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory and help your immune system function properly.

  • Bromelain (250 to 500 mg three times per day between meals) reduces swelling.

  • Vitamin C (250 to 500 mg twice a day) supports immune function and decreases inflammation.

  • Calcium (1,000 mg per day) and magnesium (200 to 600 mg per day) are cofactors for many metabolic processes.

  • Vitamin E (400 IU twice a day) can help protect the heart.

  • Coenzyme Q10 (50 mg twice a day) can help protect the heart.

Herbal support


Most auto-immune conditions are associated with imbalances in the ratios and activity of T-lymphocytes (Th1 and Th2) with the underlying causes of Graves disease being no different. Both Th1 and Th2 are in a constant state of balance (like a see-saw) and when one is increased, the other is decreased, and vice versa.


Perilla (Perilla frutescens), a herb used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, has been found to contain an active ingredient called Luteolin. In studies, Luteolin has been found to possess potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, spasmolytic, and immunoregulatory activities. These studies showed that Luteolin can prevent the Th1/Th2 balance from polarising towards Th2 immune responses inhibiting all the major Th2 cytokines (IL-4, IL-5, IL-10, IL-13). These cytokines are involved in the migration and activation of eosinophils and mast cells (IL-5) and excess mucus secretion (IL-13) during allergic inflammation as well.


For information about the availability of products containing  Perilla (Perilla frutescens) in Australia call: 02 47349010.

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