What is hyperthyroidism?
Hyperthyroidism is an overfunctioning of the thyroid gland. This overfunctioning results in the production of too much thyroid hormone. Because the thyroid hormone controls many bodily functions, this increase in thyroid hormone level can cause changes in a wide variety of bodily functions.
Is it contagious?
No. It's not thought to be contagious.
What causes hyperthyroidism?
Hyperthyroidism can be caused by:
Graves' disease, which is an autoimmune disease
Toxic nodules or goiters on the thyroid
Excessive thyroid medication given to hypothyroid sufferers
Thyroiditis (an inflammation of the thyroid).
What's the difference between hyperthyroidism and Graves' Disease?
Graves' Disease is the most common type of hyperthyroidism. In Graves' disease, the condition is caused by a generalized overactivity of the entire thyroid gland. Graves' disease is named after Robert Graves, the physician who first described this form of hyperthyroidism.
What's the difference between Graves' Disease and "diffuse toxic goiter"?
None--they're different names for the same condition. The term "diffuse toxic goiter" just describes the condition (rather than the discoverer) as follows:
"Diffuse" - the entire thyroid gland is involved in the disease;
"Toxic" - the patient will appear fevered, as if infected;
"Goiter" - the thyroid gland often grows larger due to this condition.
I've heard Graves' Disease described as an autoimmune disorder. What does that mean?
It means that the disease is caused by a malfunctioning of the immune system of the body--the very system which also protects us from such unpleasant things as bacteria and cancer cells. The immune system works by producing antibodies which attack and destroy many harmful elements in the body, such as viruses, bacteria, etc. The problem is that sometimes this defense system gets confused and starts attacking good cells. In Graves' Disease, antibodies are produced that attack some of the proteins on the surface of thyroid cells. In response, the thyroid cells produce too much thyroid hormone, which, in turn, overstimulates the thyroid.
How can I recognize Graves' Disease?
Even if you have Graves' disease, it can take weeks, or even months, before you suspect you are sick because the symptoms build very gradually. You may think you are just experiencing stress, or feeling extra anxious. Or the disease may actually make you happy in the short term, as one of the side effects of speeding up the thyroid can be weight loss. However, in the longer term, less desirable symptoms, such as muscle weakness, insomnia and trembling can result. The pulse will likely increase, along with an inability to tolerate heat and abnormally high sweating. You may experience hair loss and diarrhea is common. Women may find that the menstrual flow will lighten and the time between periods grow longer. Depression can also enter the picture. And, as mentioned above, blood pressure and heart rate can increase to dangerous levels. But Graves' Disease often has the most visible impact on the skin and eyes.