The condition where the body (Thyroid gland) secretes thyroid hormones more than its normal level in blood is known as hyperthyroidism or an overactive thyroid. It is sometimes referred as Thyrotoxicosis but some of the symptoms may differ from person to person. Goiter (Swelling in the neck region), rapid heartbeat, irritability, sleeping disorders and muscle weakness are some of the symptoms common to them.
The most prevalent symptom of hyperthyroidism is the loss of weight which can be visible a few months after the condition has become advanced.
How Hyperthyroidism Occurs
Hyperthyroidism is often a result of Grave’s disease, which is an autoimmune condition with unknown causes. On other instances it can be the result of an infection (thyroiditis), adenomas and even stress. Whatever the reason it may be, it causes the thyroid to produce more thyroid hormone flooding the bloodstream with it. Hence, the metabolism of the body speeds up and the energy is produced only in the form of heat.
How Hyperthyroidism Affects the Body
Thyroid hormones are responsible in regulating the metabolism rate of the body within the gut and an imbalance of the hormone causes the process to become destabilized. Some of the results of an increased metabolic rate include:
- Increased heart rate and perspiration
- Irritability, nervousness, anxiety, trembling hands and insomnia
- Muscle weakness and fatigue
- Thinning skin, brittle hair
- Light menstrual flow
- Increased blood sugar
- Decreased libido
- Nausea, diarrhea and vomiting
- Excessive urination and thirst
- Loss of weight, loss of appetite
- Hair loss
- Weight gain
- Ocular symptoms like lid lag, weakness of the extra-ocular muscle
- Thyroid storm (severe cases)
How Does Hyperthyroidism Lead to Weight Loss?
Have you ever wondered how your body converts food into energy? You need to know this in order to understand how hyperthyroidism leads to weight loss.
Whenever you eat any food item with carbohydrates, it has to be broken down into glucose. The body cannot make use of carbohydrates because they are complex compounds, but through digestion by the enzymes along the gut, glucose is produced.
Glucose is ‘burned’ within the cells through the process of metabolism using oxygen delivered by the blood. Metabolism in turn produces energy that enables bodily functions such as ‘powering’ muscle cells to contract and move. When you walk around or jog, all or most of the glucose is used up, but if you go to bed, there is no need for energy, so the body will store the glucose.
However, it is not stored directly as glucose. First it will be converted into fat which is then stored under the skin. The process of converting glucose to fat is called glycolysis. Glucose is also converted into acetyl-CoA. Acetyl CoA is easier to store and can be metabolized to produce energy when needed. It is these storages of fat under the skin that makes someone increase in weight and size.
However, with hyperthyroidism the whole process is skewed because the release of thyroid hormones into the bloodstream encourages metabolism even when it is not needed. As a result, the body metabolizes all the glucose that was absorbed from the gut and does not leave any for storage. Furthermore, the body converts stored fat into glucose when needed to produce energy and hyperthyroidism encourages this process.
Therefore, any food taken by the person suffering from this condition is immediately metabolized and turned into energy leaving nothing for storage. Then any stored fat is converted into glucose and metabolized as well. As these processes continue to occur for weeks and even months, the individual eventually loses weight because there is no fat stored in their body.
Whenever there is no fat or glucose for metabolism, the body begins to break down proteins into glucose for energy and such break down of muscle cells for production of energy further leads to a drop in weight, eventually making the person thin and lacking in body mass. In an untreated state there might be thinning of bones and in rare cases, death might occur.
Some people may observe an unnatural weight loss without any added efforts like exercise or medication.
Weight loss when following the same diet or without a decrease in appetite could be the indication of hyperthyroidism. Weight loss increases if the condition gets more severe. Though weight loss is observed in many, some patients may even show a considerable amount of weight gain. This is all dependent on the amount of calorie intake. As with an overactive thyroid, the body may burn calories at a fast rate (high metabolism).
How to treat Hyperthyroidism?
There is an urgency for medical attention as hyperthyroidism may not cure on its own. Rather, it carries a serious health risk if left untreated.
The first step to be taken is to consult a specialist who has years of experience in treating the thyroid. Knowing if the symptoms are mild or severe would be the basis for further treatment. In some patients, there might be only temporary symptoms while in others it may be chronic.
Know about your condition and the disease in general (use the internet). This would be an effective way to understand the symptoms and complexities of the disease.
The thyroid is a tricky organ as it also exhibits decreased activity followed by a decline in the symptoms. The treatment options and the procedures needed (if any) should be well thought out and discussed with the doctor. The fight with hyperthyroidism can be a long and exhausting one so the individual should be well prepared and equipped. Patients should always have a physician on call to treat any uncertain symptoms.
Maintaining a healthy relationship with your doctor could go a long way in helping your condition as the doctor knows you best. Join support groups as it can help with your anxiety and panic attacks (rare). Do keep some people among your friends and family as a backup plan to avoid any crisis or when there is a pressing need for hospitalization.