There are three common treatments for hyperthyroidism, or overactive thyroid. The two treatments most often used are antithyroid medications and radioactive iodine. If these treatments do not provide the expected results, a patient may require surgery.
Antithyroid Medicine and Iodine
Antithyroid medicines are most often used for individuals who have recently been diagnosed with Graves' disease, have a small area of swelling on the thyroid, and individuals under 50 years of age. Radioactive iodine is more often used in individuals over the age of 50 or those who have nodules on their thyroid that are causing an excessive release of thyroid hormones.
Not everyone can use radioactive iodine. Individuals who are pregnant, plan to become pregnant within six months of treatment, or are breastfeeding cannot receive radioactive iodine. Radioactive iodine is also not used for treatment of thyroiditis, or other conditions that cause temporary hyperthyroidism.
Regardless of whether someone receives antithyroid medications or radioactive iodine, he or she may also require additional medications to treat the symptoms of an overactive thyroid. Medications can ease the tremors, rapid heartbeat, sweating, dry eyes, and nervousness that often accompany this condition. In most cases, these medications can be discontinued once the hyperthyroidism is corrected. You can also reduce symptoms of hyperthyroidism by avoiding caffeine and working to keep your stress levels under control.
During and after the treatment period, you will receive regular blood tests. Your doctor will check your thyroid hormone levels to monitor your progress. Patients sometimes cross over into hypothyroidism during treatment, so it is important for your doctor to monitor these levels regularly. You should also contact your doctor if you begin feeling overly tired, excessively cold, or if you gain weight for unexplained reasons, as these are signs of hypothyroidism.
If antithyroid medication or radioactive iodine cannot treat your hyperthyroidism, you may be a candidate for a thyroidectomy. A thyroidectomy is typically used for individuals whose thyroid is so swollen that they cannot easily swallow or breathe, those who cannot tolerate antithyroid medications, or women who are pregnant and cannot receive radioactive iodine treatment.
During a thyroidectomy, your doctor will remove all or part of your thyroid. The surgery is generally considered low-risk, and you can usually leave the hospital a day or so after surgery. If you have a total thyroidectomy, you will need to take synthetic thyroid medication for the rest of your life.