Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
Ruchi Mathur, MD, FRCP(C)
Ruchi Mathur, MD, FRCP(C) is an Attending Physician with the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism and Associate Director of Clinical Research, Recruitment and Phenotyping with the Center for Androgen Related Disorders, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.
In this Article
- Hyperthyroidism definition and facts
- What is hyperthyroidism?
- What are the symptoms of hyperthyroidism?
- What causes hyperthyroidism?
- What is graves' disease?
- What is thyroiditis (inflammation of the thyroid)?
- What are other causes of hyperthyroidism?
- Which types of doctors treat hyperthyroidism?
- How is hyperthyroidism diagnosed?
- How is medications treat hyperthyroidism?
- Medications that treat symptoms of hyperthyroidism
- Antithyroid drugs for hyperthyroidism
- Radioactive iodine for hyperthyroidism
- Surgery for hyperthyroidism
- What should I do if I think I have hyperthyroidism?
- Pictures of Hyperthyroidism - Slideshow
- Pictures of Thyroid Medical Anatomy
- Pictures of Thyroid Conditions - Slideshow
- Thyroid FAQs
- Find a local Endocrinologist in your town
How is medications treat hyperthyroidism?
The options for treating hyperthyroidism include:
- Treating the symptoms
- Antithyroid drugs
- Radioactive iodine
- Surgery treating symptoms
Medications that treat symptoms of hyperthyroidism
There are medications available to immediately treat the symptoms caused by excessive thyroid hormones, such as a rapid heart rate. One of the main classes of drugs used to treat these symptoms is the beta-blockers [for example, propranolol (Inderal), atenolol (Tenormin), metoprolol (Lopressor)]. These medications counteract the effect of thyroid hormone to increase metabolism, but they do not alter the levels of thyroid hormones in the blood. A doctor determines which patients to treat based on a number of variables including the underlying cause of hyperthyroidism, the age of the patient, the size of the thyroid gland, and the presence of coexisting medical illnesses.
Antithyroid drugs for hyperthyroidism
There are two main antithyroid drugs available for use in the United States, methimazole (Tapazole) and propylthiouracil (PTU). These drugs accumulate in the thyroid tissue and block production of thyroid hormones. PTU also blocks the conversion of T4 hormone to the more metabolically active T3 hormone. The major risk of these medications is occasional suppression of production of white blood cells by the bone marrow (agranulocytosis). (White cells are needed to fight infection.) It is impossible to tell if and when this side effect is going to occur, so regular determination of white blood cells in the blood are not useful.
It is important for patients to know that if they develop a fever, a sore throat, or any signs of infection while taking methimazole or propylthiouracil, they should see a doctor immediately. While a concern, the actual risk of developing agranulocytosis is less than 1%. In general, patients should be seen by the doctor at monthly intervals while taking antithyroid medication. The dose is adjusted to maintain the patient in as close to a normal thyroid state as possible (euthyroid). Once the dosing is stable, patients can be seen at three month intervals if long-term therapy is planned.
Learn more about: propylthiouracil
Usually, long-term antithyroid therapy is only used for patients with Graves' disease, since this disease may actually go into remission under treatment without requiring treatment with thyroid radiation or surgery. If treated from one to two years, data shows remission rates of 40%-70%. When the disease is in remission, the gland is no longer overactive, and antithyroid medication is not needed.
Recent studies also have shown that adding a pill of thyroid hormone to the antithyroid medication actually results in higher remission rates. The rationale for this may be that by providing an external source for thyroid hormone, higher doses of antithyroid medications can be given, which may suppress the overactive immune system in persons with Graves' disease. This type of therapy remains controversial, however. When long-term therapy is withdrawn, patients should continue to be seen by the doctor every three months for the first year, since a relapse of Graves' disease is most likely in this time period. If a patient does relapse, antithyroid drug therapy can be restarted, or radioactive iodine or surgery may be considered.
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