How common are elevated thyroid levels and what can you do about it?
While Graves disease does cause elevated thyroid levels, most cases of excessive thyroid hormone that I see are induced by medications or supplements. In Graves disease, your body creates a thyroid stimulating immunoglobulin (TSI) that causes excessive thyroid symptoms. However, In 20 years as a doctor, having seen over 100,000 patients in 5 different countries, I have only diagnosed Graves disease 5 times. So it’s really uncommon. Most of the excessive thyroid hormone levels I see are from either medication overdosing or herbals and supplements.
Signs and Symptoms of Excessive Thyroid Function
This may sound very similar to other symptom lists you’ve seen us talk about here before, which reinforces the principle of test don’t guess.
Common symptoms of elevated thyroid hormone include:
- Brittle fingernails
- Breast enlargement in males
- Bulging eyelids
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Chest pain
- Fast heart rate
- Sexual dysfunction
- Muscle pains and weakness
- Hot or cold intolerance
- Sweating and hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Skin changes
- Shortness of breath
- Tremors or shakiness
- Weight change
Late stage symptoms can also include hearing loss, abnormal menstrual periods, puffy face, slurred speech, and thinning of the eyebrow. Yes, many of these sound like symptoms of low thyroid and that’s why it is imperative to test to determine whether the problem is hypo (low) or hyper(elevated) thyroid.
Causes of Excessive Thyroid Levels
Medications and supplements are the most frequent cause of hyperthyroid that I see. The most common medications I see that can cause these problems are amiodarone and lithium. Sometimes thyroid medications are used to treat other non-thyroid problems. This bears repeating. I see a lot of people trying to treat issues like elevated insulin, cortisol, toxins, etc. Practitioners assume based on symptoms that there is a thyroid problem, so they sometimes prescribe too much thyroid medication when indeed other things are going on. As we’ve said before, it’s important to assess all your hormones before treating them. I especially recommend working with a skilled practitioner if you suspect you are dealing with hyperthyroidism because there are some nuances in testing for this condition. Test don’t guess is the mantra of this series.
In addition to medications, excessive iodine, selenium, calcium, or copper, can cause excessive thyroid function. Aging, genetics, and ethnicity can play a role as well. Elevated thyroid is actually more common in Japanese people than in other ethnicities. Toxin exposures such as cadmium or other heavy metals can cause the thyroid to over-produce. Pregnancy can also affect thyroid function as well as viral infections.
What are the Benefits of Treating Elevated Thyroid Function?
A few of the many benefits to treating hyperthyroidism include the treatment of the following conditions:
- Elevated cholesterol
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Gall stone prevention
- Attention issues (e.g. ADHD)
So there are many benefits to treating both low thyroid and high thyroid. I think the overarching theme in this series on the hormone hierarchy is that our hormones need to be in balance. We are not just one organ, we are a complex symphony of organs. The sum of the whole is more than the sum of the parts. Treating an imbalance requires a skilled practitioner who is willing to test, understands the testing results, and is able to get to the root cause. Just treating a cortisol or thyroid abnormality is not enough. You have to get to the root cause, whether it is a nutritional issue, a gut issue, an autoimmune issue, or a toxicity issue. Personal trauma and physical trauma may also need to be investigated and addressed in order to take care of all these hormones appropriately.
I hope this four-part series on the thyroid has been helpful. If you have questions or would like to reach out to us you can use our Contact Page. Follow us on Instagram or Facebook. If you would like to know more about us, please check out our website https://richmondfuncti.wpenginepowered.com, where you can keep up to date with what we’re doing, join our newsletter, and check out our reading list.
Take care and be well.
Since 2010, Richmond Integrative and Functional Medicine has been helping people to restore their health and hope with an integrative approach to conventional and alternative medicine that’s entirely science-backed. We at RIFM believe everyone is made for health. We offer a comprehensive, in-person patient membership program to ensure you get access to the care you need to thrive.
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