Published February 8th 2016
Hyperthyroidism can be a scary condition to deal with, and I can tell you from self experience that before I was personally diagnosed with hyperthyroidism I was nervous about the elevated heart rate and heart palpitations I was dealing with. The severity of these symptoms is what makes many people choose radioactive iodine treatment. However, there definitely are risks associated with radioactive iodine, which I have discussed in other articles. With regards to the hyperthyroid symptoms, while many people with hyperthyroidism and Graves’ Disease experience these seven common symptoms I’m about to discuss, it’s important to understand that not everyone will experience the same exact symptoms.
So what I’m going to do is first discuss seven of the most common hyperthyroid symptoms. Then I’m going to list some additional symptoms people with hyperthyroidism might experience. I’ll then briefly talk about how hyperthyroidism is usually diagnosed, and what you can do to overcome any hyperthyroid symptoms you might have.
Hyperthyroid Symptom #1: Increased resting heart rate. Although not everyone with hyperthyroidism experiences an increased resting heart rate, most people do. And the severity differs depending on the person, as some people with hyperthyroidism will experience an increased resting heart rate between 90 and 100 beats per minute (BPM), while others will have a resting heart rate between 120 and 140 BPM. A small percentage of patients with hyperthyroidism will have a resting heart rate that exceeds 140 BPM. Obviously having an elevated heart rate for a prolonged period of time isn’t a good thing, which is why it is important to do things to lower the heart rate, whether it be through antithyroid medication or beta blockers, or herbs such as bugleweed and motherwort.
Hyperthyroid Symptom #2: Heart palpitations. When I was dealing with hyperthyroidism I would have a difficult time sleeping due to the palpitations I was experiencing at night. And this is very common, as heart palpitations are another common hyperthyroid symptom. Some people only notice the heart palpitations at night when everything is quiet, while others will notice the heart palpitations throughout the day.
Hyperthyroid Symptom #3: Weight loss. Many people who experience hyperthyroidism and don’t take antithyroid medication lose a good deal of weight. I personally lost over 40 pounds when I had hyperthyroidism. This of course is due to the increased metabolism caused by the excess production of thyroid hormones. However, if someone is taking antithyroid medication then this will usually have the opposite effect and cause someone to gain weight. Every now and then I’ll consult with someone who has hyperthyroidism and isn’t taking any antithyroid medication, yet is gaining weight due to other factors, although this isn’t too common. Bugleweed also has antithyroid activity, and so this can help with the weight loss by decreasing the levels of thyroid hormone.
Hyperthyroid Symptom #4: Increased appetite. It’s very common for people with hyperthyroidism to have a voracious appetite. This once again is due to the increased metabolism, and for some people it will take a good amount of time before this improves.
Hyperthyroid Symptom #5: Hair Loss. Not everyone with hyperthyroidism will experience hair loss. However, many people do, and sometimes it is quite extreme. In fact, it’s not uncommon for someone with hyperthyroidism to be more concerned about their hair loss than their cardiac symptoms. Fortunately the hair loss usually will stop once the thyroid hormone levels have been normalized for a few months, and the hair usually grows back.
Hyperthyroid Symptom #6: Insomnia. Another common symptom people with hyperthyroidism experience is insomnia. Of course other factors can also cause problems with falling and/or staying asleep, such as having elevated cortisol levels or neurotransmitter imbalances. But for many people with hyperthyroidism the sleep improves as the thyroid hormone levels decrease.
Hyperthyroid Symptom #7: Eye swelling and/or bulging. Most people with hyperthyroidism have Graves’ Disease, and approximately 50% of these people have some type of eye symptoms. In most cases the symptoms are mild, but for some people the symptoms can be quite severe. These symptoms are due to the immune system attacking the tissues of the eyes, and as the autoimmune response is addressed this usually will improve. And in many people the eye symptoms will improve without any intervention, although in some cases it is very severe and requires surgery.
Remember that not everyone with hyperthyroidism will experience all of these symptoms I just mentioned. Although many of the people I work with have an increased pulse rate, heart palpitations, experience weight loss, etc., over the years I’ve learned that everyone is different. And while symptom management is important, of course the ultimate goal should be to restore the health of the person. In other words, while managing the symptoms you should try to address the underlying cause of the hyperthyroid condition.
Also, even though the increased thyroid hormone levels are what’s responsible for the classic symptoms of hyperthyroidism, remember that other imbalances can also cause or contribute to the person’s symptoms. For example, while someone with hyperthyroidism will commonly experience weight loss and/or loose stools, a bacterial or parasitic infection can also cause this. And while insomnia is common with people who have hyperthyroidism and Graves’ Disease, I mentioned earlier how other factors can cause problems with sleep, such as high cortisol levels and neurotransmitter imbalances.
Other Symptoms People With Hyperthyroidism Might Experience
In addition to the common symptoms I listed above, some people with hyperthyroidism will experience one or more of the following symptoms:
Decrease in muscle mass
Increased frequency of bowel movements
Irregular menstrual cycle
High blood pressure
How Is Hyperthyroidism Diagnosed?
Hyperthyroidism is typically diagnosed by elevated T3 and T4 levels on a blood test, along with a depressed TSH. However, some people have subclinical hyperthyroidism, which involves a depressed TSH, along with normal thyroid hormone levels. Most people with hyperthyroidism have Graves’ Disease, which is an autoimmune condition that involves the immune system attacking the TSH receptors, which in turn leads to the excess production of thyroid hormone. This usually can be confirmed by testing the TSH receptor antibodies (i.e. thyroid stimulating immunoglobulins). Some doctors use a test called a radioactive iodine uptake scan to determine if someone has Graves’ Disease, although I usually recommend testing the TSI levels first, as if these are positive then there usually is no need to go through the RAI uptake. And if you’re concerned about thyroid nodules you can obtain an ultrasound.
How To Overcome These Hyperthyroid Symptoms
The conventional medical approach for treating hyperthyroidism usually involves the person taking antithyroid medication and/or beta blockers to manage the symptoms, or radioactive iodine treatment, which damages the thyroid gland. Thyroid surgery is also given as an option to some people with hyperthyroidism. While many people do need to take medication on a temporary basis to manage their symptoms, in most cases, radioactive iodine or thyroid surgery should be a last resort.
The ultimate goal should be to detect and address the underlying cause of the condition. This admittedly can be a challenge, but many people with hyperthyroidism can get into remission naturally, and then maintain their health thereafter. While some people need to take the medication while addressing the cause of their problem, others are able to manage their symptoms naturally through the use of herbs such as bugleweed and motherwort. When someone has Graves’ Disease then the goal should be to restore the health of the immune system, which in turn will resolve the hyperthyroidism. Other causes of hyperthyroidism such as toxic multinodular goiter can also be treated naturally, although it can be challenging.
In summary, many people with hyperthyroidism have the classic symptoms which include an increased resting heart rate, heart palpitations, weight loss, an increased appetite, and other symptoms. However, keep in mind that not everyone with hyperthyroidism will experience the same symptoms. Also remember that while managing the hyperthyroid symptoms is very important, one should also try to address the underlying cause of the problem in order to avoid radioactive iodine or thyroid surgery.