Treating An Overactive Thyroid


DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My daughter was diagnosed recently with a mildly overactive thyroid gland. She is going to have another test in one month. What can be done to bring her thyroid readings to normal without taking medicine for it? What health problems are caused as a result of an overactive gland? — M.M.

ANSWER: The thyroid gland — located in the neck — produces thyroid hormone, a hormone with many functions. At young ages, it fosters growth. It enhances brain activity. It’s involved with the metabolism of carbohydrates and fats. It keeps body weight on the lean side. It prevents the heart from slowing down. It’s involved with the production of body heat. It keeps cell chemistry perking along at the optimum rate.

Hyperthyroidism, an overactive gland, pushes all the above functions into overdrive. People lose weight in spite of eating more food. The heart races even when people are at rest. Hands tend to shake. At a room temperature comfortable for most, affected people feel hot. The eyes often bulge. Menstrual periods are thrown off their normal cycle.

One of the major causes of an overactive gland is Graves disease. In this condition, the body makes antibodies that stimulate the gland to produce excessive amounts of its hormone. The gland enlarges — becomes a goiter.

I don’t know of a way to treat the gland reliably without resorting to medicines or surgery. Medicines for hyperthyroidism are methimazole or PTU. The medicine chosen is taken for six months to two years and then stopped. If a person relapses, the medicine has to be restarted. Radioactive iodine is another treatment. When people hear the word “radioactive,” they cringe. In the decades and decades of its use, radioactive iodine hasn’t been responsible for cancer. The iodine makes a beeline to the gland and puts it out of commission. It’s similar to having surgery without a scalpel.

Surgical removal of all or part of the gland is the third option for this condition.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: This morning, on looking into the mirror, I got a shock. My right eye has a large, red blotch on the white part. It looks like blood. I don’t have any pain, and my sight is fine. What is this? I can’t remember hitting my eye. Could I have done so during sleep? — B.B.

ANSWER: You describe a subconjunctival hemorrhage. “Hemorrhage” is far too strong a word to use here. It’s actually a small amount of blood that comes from a broken capillary, one of the tiniest and most delicate of blood vessels. Capillaries break for innocent reasons. A cough or sneeze can break one. Most of the time, people have no recollection of anything happening that caused the break. “Subconjunctival” means the leak occurred under the transparent membrane that covers the eye, the conjunctiva.

By the time you read this, the splotch should have vanished.

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