Many patients do not experience or report symptoms in the early stages of hyperthyroidism. As a result, the condition may not be diagnosed until it progresses enough to cause symptoms.
Eventually, the abnormally high concentration of the thyroid hormones, thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3), can cause changes in the function of the body and lead to the presentation of symptoms. The typical symptoms of hyperthyroidism can be categorized into several main areas.
One of the most distinctive signs of hyperthyroidism is an enlarged thyroid gland or nodules protruding from the gland. This is known as a goiter, and is a visible enlargement of the thyroid, at the lower front of the neck.
Other signs that may be visible in the appearance of an affected individual include hair loss, sweating and tremor or shaking of the hands. Sweaty and clammy skin, or flushing of the skin, are also linked to the condition. Less commonly, men with hyperthyroidism may notice some development of breast tissue.
Many patients with hyperthyroidism may also report changes in their cognition. They may have difficulty concentrating and get tired more easily than usual. Additionally, they may feel restless, nervous or anxious, and may have frequent mood swings. Hyperactivity is common, and some individuals also have difficulty sleeping (insomnia).
One of the main functions of the thyroid hormones is maintaining normal metabolism, and, as a result, hyperthyroidism is linked to significantly increased appetite. Despite eating more than usual, many patients lose weight due to their increased metabolic rate, and have more frequent bowel movements for the same reason. However, some patients with hyperthyroidism gain weight rather than lose weight.
Less commonly, some patients may report irregular bowel movements or other gastrointestinal effects, including nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.
Other Common Symptoms
In addition, there are other symptoms that may be associated with hyperthyroidism. These include:
- Intolerance to heat
- Irregular menstrual periods
- Heart palpitations
- Itchy or irritated eyes
- Exophthalmos (protruding eyes)
- Weakness in hip and shoulder joints
- Muscle weakness
Importance of Symptoms for Diagnosis
Patient-reported symptoms are usually the first indicator of hyperthyroidism. Further investigation is required to diagnose the condition when a patient presents with symptoms that may be indicative of hyperthyroidism.
It is important that these symptoms be recognized to ensure that the diagnostic process can be initiated earlier, to allow the patient to be treated in a timely manner. This can help to prevent the progression of symptoms and enable the condition to be managed appropriately.
Signs of hyperthyroidism
A hyperactive thyroid gland accelerates the activity of most organs in the body, producing signs which may be read by all:
- High blood pressure
- High heart rate
- Swelling around the eyes
- Hyperactive reflexes
- Changes in the nails, hair or skin
- Pretibial myxedema, which produces a thickening and redness over the tibia, especially in Graves’ disease
Reviewed by Dr Liji Thomas, MD.