Overactive Thyroid

Diagnosing Overactive Thyroid

To make an overactive thyroid diagnosis, healthcare providers start by asking a number of questions and performing a thorough physical examination. They will also recommend several tests to confirm a diagnosis.
One of these tests looks at thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels. This test is the most accurate measure of thyroid activity available. TSH can be low even with small increases in thyroid function.
(Click Diagnosing Hyperthyroidism to learn about the TSH blood test and other tests that may be ordered.)

Treating an Overactive Thyroid

The goal of treatment for hyperthyroidism is to return thyroid hormone levels to normal. Treatment options include:
  • Medicines
  • Radioiodine therapy (radioiodine ablation)
  • Surgery.
The two main medicines used are beta blockers and antithyroid medicines.
Beta blocker medicines are used to quickly decrease symptoms until other treatments take effect. They do not affect thyroid hormone levels. Antithyroid drugs, on the other hand, decrease the amount of thyroid hormone made. They may or may not cause permanent remission of an overactive thyroid.
Radioactive iodine is another treatment option. It destroys the thyroid with radiation. This treatment option is an effective and permanent way to cure an overactive thyroid. It can, however, cause hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid). Healthcare providers consider this an acceptable outcome, since hypothyroidism is easier to treat and has fewer long-term problems than overactive thyroid.
Pregnant women should not receive radioiodine therapy, and any pregnancy should be delayed for four to six months after this treatment is completed (see Hyperthyroidism and Pregnancy).
Surgery is the least common option recommended. It is another permanent treatment for an overactive thyroid. However, it is used less often because of the greater relative risks compared to medicines and radioiodine therapy.
Before recommending a particular treatment plan, healthcare providers will consider the cause of hyperthyroidism, how severe the symptoms are, how old the person is, and what other conditions they might have.
(Click Treatment for Overactive Thyroid for more details on each of these different options.)
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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