Hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland produces too much thyroid hormone. This can cause various symptoms, including a rapid or irregular heartbeat, weight loss, difficulties with fertility and sexual function, fatigue, and more. In rare cases, hyperthyroidism can lead to a “thyroid storm,” a life-threatening condition requiring emergency medical care. Could you be at risk of this condition?
Risk Factors for Hyperthyroidism
Risk factors for hyperthyroidism include:
- A family history of thyroid problems, particularly Graves’ disease
- Being female. Women are two to ten times more likely to have thyroid problems, and around one in eight women will have thyroid problems during her lifetime.
- A history of certain chronic diseases, including type 1 diabetes, pernicious anemia and primary adrenal insufficiency
- Stress. In those who have a genetic susceptibility to thyroid problems such as Graves’ disease, intense stress or trauma can be a trigger
- Being a smoker. Smoking raises your risk of Graves’ disease.
- Having recently had a baby. Pregnancy affects the thyroid gland, and the risk of developing Graves’ disease or thyroiditis (inflammation of the thyroid gland) increases in the year after giving birth.
What Can I Do about My Risk?
If you are at risk of hyperthyroidism, there are several steps you can take:
- Speak to your doctor about testing your thyroid levels with a simple blood test. Doctors don’t recommend that everyone check their thyroid, but people at high risk of thyroid problems may benefit from regular tests.
- If you smoke, stop. Speak to your doctor about the best way for you to quit.
- Manage your stress. In those with a genetic susceptibility to thyroid problems, periods of intense stress or trauma can trigger thyroid problems. While you can’t always prevent stressful times, you can take action to manage stress. Get regular exercise, eat a healthy diet featuring plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein, get 7-8 hours of sleep a night, and consider starting a meditation practice. Studies show that meditation can help relieve stress and improve mood in as little as a few weeks of daily practice.
- If you have a history of thyroid problems, tell your doctor if you plan to become pregnant. You may require thyroid tests throughout your pregnancy. Your doctor will also monitor your baby for signs of thyroid problems since these can be passed from mother to child. Thyroid problems in infants can be serious but are easily treated once diagnosed.
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While most risk factors for hyperthyroidism are outside of your control, you can help look after your health by not smoking, managing your stress levels, and asking your doctor about any tests you should receive. If you experience hyperthyroidism, know that there are many effective treatments, and in most cases, symptoms improve within weeks.