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3 Risks Of Unmanaged Hyperthyroidism

When I was dealing with Graves’ Disease I chose not to take any medication.  I decided not to take the beta blocker that was prescribed by the primary care physician who told me I had hyperthyroidism, and then I refused to take the Methimazole that was recommended by the endocrinologist who diagnosed me with Graves’ Disease.  It was approximately two months between these two doctor visits, and I didn’t begin taking bugleweed (and eventually motherwort) until after my appointment with the endocrinologist.  While everything turned out okay, I was taking a big risk by not managing my hyperthyroid symptoms for so long, and I decided to put this blog post together because unmanaged hyperthyroidism has numerous risks, and I’m going to discuss three of the main ones here.

Getting back to my situation, if the bugleweed and motherwort didn’t do a good job of managing my symptoms then I’m pretty sure I would have taken the antithyroid medication while trying to restore my health.  While it might sound hypocritical telling people with hyperthyroidism the risks of not managing their symptoms when this is exactly what I did for a couple of months, keep in mind that at the time I wasn’t working with other people who had hyperthyroidism and Graves’ Disease.  If I knew then what I know now about hyperthyroidism and Graves’ Disease I wouldn’t have gone so long without managing my symptoms.

With that being said, let’s go ahead and take a look at three of the main risks of unmanaged hyperthyroidism:

Risk #1: Decrease in bone density.  Thyroid hormones are required for skeletal development and establishment of peak bone mass (1) [1].  In adults, T3 regulates bone turnover and bone mineral density, and normal levels of thyroid hormone are essential to maintain optimal bone strength (1) [1].  Overt hyperthyroidism can cause accelerated bone remodeling, reduced bone density, osteoporosis, and an increase in fracture rate (2) [2] (3) [3].  Although this decrease in bone density is reversible (3) [3] (4) [4], it can take years to reverse osteopenia and osteoporosis.

In order to avoid a decrease in bone density it is important to address elevated thyroid hormone levels.  This can be accomplished through antithyroid medication such as Methimazole or PTU, or in many cases by taking an antithyroid herb such as bugleweed.  Just keep in mind that not everyone is able to lower their thyroid hormone levels by taking bugleweed, and when this is the case then it might be necessary to take antithyroid medication.  In addition to lowering the thyroid hormone levels, eating a healthy diet and engaging in some weight-bearing exercises at least a few days per week can also help to increase the bone density.

Risk #2: Thyroid storm.  A thyroid storm is a rare complication of hyperthyroidism, and is frequently caused by a secondary event such as an infection or myocardial infarction (5) [5].  In addition to the person presenting with elevated thyroid hormone levels, they usually will have an extremely high heart rate (i.e. greater than 140 beats per minute), and a fever greater than 102 degrees Fahrenheit (>39 degrees Celsius) is almost universal (5) [5].  Other symptoms can include persistent sweating, shaking, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and disorientation. The overall mortality of a thyroid storm is between 10-20% (5) [5] (6) [6], and this assumes that there is no delay in treatment.  This is considered to be a medical emergency, and so if you are experiencing some of the symptoms I just described then you need to take this seriously, and it probably would be wise to visit the nearest urgent care or hospital emergency center.

3) Atrial fibrillation.  An atrial fibrillation is the most common type of heart arrhythmia, and this involves an abnormal heart rate and/or heart rhythm.  Atrial fibrillation is the most common cardiac complication of hyperthyroidism, and it can increase the risk of blood clot formation inside the heart (7) [7].  The best way for someone with hyperthyroidism to prevent atrial fibrillation from occurring is to make sure their resting heart rate isn’t too high.  I discussed this condition in greater detail in an article I wrote entitled “Hyperthyroidism and Atrial Fibrillation [8]“.

Should You Take Medication or Herbs To Manage The Hyperthyroid Symptoms?

Some people have a difficult time deciding whether they should take antithyroid medication to manage their symptoms, or if they should choose to do this naturally through herbs such as bugleweed and motherwort.  Although I personally chose not to take the medication, some people aren’t able to effectively manage their symptoms through herbs alone.  And if this is the case, then taking medication on a temporary basis is probably a good idea.  After all, while it’s great if you can manage your symptoms naturally, even if you do need to take antithyroid medication you can still follow a natural treatment protocol.  In fact, it’s quite common for patients with hyperthyroidism to already be on antithyroid medication prior to working with me.  If you’re still not sure what to do, I would check out the following blog post I wrote entitled ” Choosing Between Prescription Drugs and Natural Supplements In Managing The Hyperthyroid Symptoms [9]“.

In summary, while many people with hyperthyroidism and Graves’ Disease can benefit from following a natural treatment protocol, it is important to manage the symptoms while taking this approach.  There are risks of unmanaged hyperthyroidism, and three of the main risks include a decrease in bone density, thyroid storm, and atrial fibrillation.  The incidence of these three conditions can be greatly reduced by decreasing the thyroid hormone levels through the use of antithyroid medication such as Methimazole, or herbs like bugleweed.  And if you have an elevated resting heart rate then of course you also want to take action to help lower this.  Frequently the antithyroid medication or herbs will help to accomplish this, although sometimes taking an agent that specifically focuses on the cardiac symptoms is necessary, and is why some people will take a beta blocker or an herb such as motherwort.