What is thyrotoxicosis?

Thyrotoxicosis is a condition that occurs when the thyroid gland releases excessive amounts of thyroid hormone, leading to elevated levels in the bloodstream. The syndrome is often related to hyperthyroidism, where the thyroid gland produces too much hormone. It can also be caused by certain diseases or conditions that stimulate the thyroid to release extra stored hormones. The two hormones involved are free thyroxine and triiodothyronine.

One of the most common diseases that causes hyperthyroidism leading to thyrotoxicosis is Graves' disease. This is an autoimmune disorder that causes the thyroid to make excessive amounts of hormones. It is characterized by an enlarged thyroid, also known as a goiter.

Another problem that can often cause thyrotoxicosis is thyroiditis, or inflammation of the thyroid. There are several causes of this, including infection and autoimmune diseases. Sometimes women experience postpartum thyroiditis, which leads to hyperthyroidism in the first year after childbirth, although it's usually only for a limited time.

Various other problems can also be the source of thyrotoxicosis. Benign tumors, or thyroid adenomas, and multinodular goiters can become toxic and cause excess hormones. Drugs and radiation treatments can also be contributing factors.

Symptoms of thyrotoxicosis typically include sweating, tremors, and an increased heart rate. Patients may also experience anxiety and hypersensitivity to heat. Some victims may feel hungrier than usual, but will also lose weight. In the case of Graves' disease, additional symptoms may include goiter and bulging of the eyes.

The first step to diagnosis is usually a physical exam. If the patient's symptoms and physical condition indicate thyrotoxicosis, the doctor will likely order a blood test. Low levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone and high levels of thyroxine or triiodothyronine confirm the diagnosis.

There are several treatment options available. Medications that inhibit the production of thyroid hormones, called thyrostatics, may be used. Beta blockers can also be used, although they only treat the symptoms of thyrotoxicosis, not the cause. Surgery to remove part or all of the thyroid is sometimes recommended. Radioactive iodine can also be used to kill overproducing cells in the thyroid.

If left untreated, thyrotoxicosis can lead to thyroid storms or thyrotoxic crisis. This is a very dangerous condition that occurs when hormone levels in the blood reach extremely high levels. Patients experience high blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, and high fever. Thyroid storm must be treated immediately, as it can lead to death.

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