What is hyperthyroidism?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

Hyperthyroidism results when the thyroid gland produces too much thyroid hormone. The thyroid is a gland located at the base of the neck below the voice box. It is about two inches long and is shaped like a butterfly. Its purpose is to produce thyroid hormones, which regulate the body's metabolism. Hyperthyroidism can speed up the body's metabolism. This condition is also referred to as "overactive thyroid."

Hyperthyroidism is a disease in which the thyroid is hyperactive and makes too much thyroid hormone. Like most conditions of the thyroid gland, it is more common in women. Hyperthyroidism can be caused by either overproduction of thyroid hormone or excessive release of thyroid hormone from the thyroid gland due to inflammation and/or destruction. It is important to distinguish between these two causes, in order to choose the appropriate treatment. A thyroid uptake scan (also known as a radioactive iodine scan) can help tell the difference between these two causes. Problems causing thyroid hormone overproduction have increased uptake on thyroid scanning (a hot scan), while thyroid gland inflammation and/or destruction have low uptake on thyroid scanning. Overproduction of thyroid hormone is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism and can be caused by Graves' disease, toxic multinodular goiter, and toxic adenoma.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.