• Medical

Hyperthyroidism vs. Hypothyroidism

11.21.21

BY: DR. KYON HOOD, MD

Hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism are two common conditions that affect the same system in your body in very different ways. These two hormone-related conditions can have a major impact on your life, and a diagnosis with either hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism can be a lot to get used to.

Hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism are two common conditions that affect the same system in your body in very different ways. These two hormone-related conditions can have a major impact on your life, and a diagnosis with either hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism can be a lot to get used to.

In this post, we'll cover the key differences between hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism, as well as the causes, symptoms, and treatments for both.

If you've recently been diagnosed with either of these conditions, you're not alone, and there are ways to make your symptoms as manageable as possible.

What’s the Difference Between Hyperthyroidism and Hypothyroidism?

Hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism are two conditions that develop due to problems with your thyroid gland. Let's explore the primary differences between them.

Hyperthyroidism

Hyperthyroidism develops when your body produces an excessive amount of thyroid hormones.

These hormones, thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3), are necessary for your body to function properly, but they can cause problems when the thyroid produces too much of them.

The most common symptoms of hyperthyroidism include:

  • Trouble sleeping — many sufferers of hyperthyroidism report that they toss and turn through the night, which can lead to fatigue during the day. If you’re not sure why you’re exhausted but can’t sleep, you may be dealing with an overactive thyroid.
  • Thin skin and brittle hair — your thyroid helps to regulate your body’s absorption of certain nutrients, which means that issues with the gland can leave your hair, skin, and nails weaker than before.
  • Unexplainable weight loss — an overactive thyroid can kick your metabolism into gear, causing you to lose weight regardless of how often you exercise or how much you eat.

Additional symptoms often include:

  • Irritability
  • Faster and irregular heart rate
  • Muscle weakness and fatigue
  • Nervousness and anxiety
  • The need to evacuate your bowels more frequently
  • For women, an overactive thyroid can affect menstruation

Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism is a condition that occurs when your thyroid gland isn't producing enough thyroxine and triiodothyronine.

Without sufficient amounts of these hormones, your metabolism slows down, which can cause rapid weight gain, fatigue, and other troubling symptoms.

The most common symptoms of hypothyroidism include:

  • Fatigue and exhaustion — like hyperthyroidism, an underactive thyroid gland can make you feel exhausted. This fatigue comes due to the link between thyroid hormone production and energy levels.
  • Inexplicable weight gain — since your thyroid plays a key role in metabolism, an underactive thyroid gland can lead to weight gain, even when you’re exercising and eating well.
  • Depression — an underactive thyroid can also affect your mood, leaving you feeling irritable, frustrated, and in some cases, depressed.

Additional symptoms often include:

  • Joint pain and body aches
  • Dry skin
  • Slow heart rate
  • Constipation and stomach cramps
  • Trouble remembering things

What Causes Hyperthyroidism and Hypothyroidism?

Both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can be caused by several different factors. Below is a quick explanation of the most common causes of these two conditions.

Causes of Hyperthyroidism

There are three main causes of hyperthyroidism:

A thyroid nodule is a lump of cells in your thyroid gland that can grow for unknown reasons. There are several types of thyroid nodules, and they are all unique from one another:

  • Colloid nodules are benign, meaning they are not malignant growths like tumors.
  • Cancerous nodules, also known as tumors, can pose a serious threat to your health (however, thyroid cancer is very uncommon).
  • Thyroid cysts are growths that fill with fluid and can sometimes be painful — these growths may need to be removed with surgery.
  • Inflammatory nodules can form as a result of swelling of the thyroid gland — an inflammatory nodule might be painful, giving you a clear indication that something is wrong with your thyroid.
  • A multinodular goiter develops when your thyroid becomes enlarged due to a growth made up of several nodules.
  • Hyper-functioning thyroid nodules produce excess hormones that can contribute to the development of hyperthyroidism.

Graves' disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes the thyroid gland to produce too much thyroid hormone. In addition to causing excess thyroid hormone production, Graves' disease is also characterized by symptoms like anxiety, fatigue, depression, and emotional issues. Like all autoimmune diseases, Graves' disease affects your immune system, and it often requires treatment with prescription medications.

Thyroiditis, also known as inflammation of the thyroid, can lead to the production of too many thyroid hormones.

Causes of Hypothyroidism

The most common cause of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto's thyroiditis, a form of thyroid inflammation that can affect your immune system's ability to function. Hashimoto's is more commonly diagnosed in women than men.

How Are Hypothyroidism and Hyperthyroidism Treated?

There are multiple treatment options for thyroid disorders, but your doctor's approach to helping you manage your thyroid disease will depend on whether you are dealing with hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism.

Below are the main treatment strategies for both an overactive thyroid and an underactive one.

Hyperthyroidism

Hyperthyroidism can be treated through surgery, radioactive iodine, and the use of some prescription medications. Let's unpack the way these treatments work.

  • Radioactive iodine is an oral medication that is absorbed into your thyroid gland. Once absorbed, the iodine reduces the size of your thyroid gland, helping to deal with inflammation and other issues. Radioactive iodine is often recommended for the treatment of goiter (an enlarged thyroid).
  • Other medications, including beta-blockers and anti-thyroids, are also often recommended by doctors to patients with hyperthyroidism. Beta-blockers are often used to treat high blood pressure, but they can also provide you with relief for the symptoms of an overactive thyroid. Anti-thyroid medications are designed to help you manage your symptoms while gradually reducing the amount of thyroid hormone that your gland produces. These medications include methimazole and propylthiouracil.
  • Surgery is often recommended for sufferers of Graves' disease. There are several types of surgery that can prevent Graves' from progressing, including orbital decompression and eye muscle surgery. These two operations are designed to treat eye issues caused by Graves' disease.
  • For patients dealing with other forms of hyperthyroidism, a surgery known as a thyroidectomy may help. In this procedure, the majority of your thyroid gland gets removed, which can lower the amount of thyroid hormone produced by your body.

Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism is typically treated with a synthetic hormone called levothyroxine. Taken as an oral medication, levothyroxine can help your thyroid start producing hormones at a normal rate again, helping you get relief from your symptoms.

Can Hypothyroidism and Hyperthyroidism Be Cured?

There are definitely effective treatment options out there for both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism. However, it isn't quite accurate to say that there is a "cure" for an overactive or underactive thyroid.

While you can get long-term relief from your symptoms, you may still need to continue treatment indefinitely to keep seeing your condition improve.

Conclusion

Both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism are chronic conditions that affect the function of your thyroid system. Symptoms of thyroid dysfunction often include fatigue, mood disturbances, and weight changes since the thyroid system is a heavy regulator of hormones. While there is no cure for these conditions, their symptoms can be effectively managed with the right treatment plan.

If you think you may have either hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism, schedule an appointment to discuss your symptoms with your physician.

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Sources:

Hypothyroidism - Symptoms and causes | Mayo Clinic

Hyperthyroidism - Symptoms and causes | Mayo Clinic

Hypothyroidism | NCBI

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