Treatment varies depending on the cause of hyperthyroidism and the severity of symptoms. Treatment options include:
Antithyroid Medications: Antithyroid drugs may be prescribed to suppress the production and release of thyroid hormones by inhibiting the use of iodine by the thyroid. Side effects may include skin rash, joint pains, fever, low white count and jaundice.
Radioactive Iodine: This is the preferred treatment of hyperthyroidism caused by Graves' disease. A radioactive iodine tablet is ingested and then taken up by thyroid cells. These overactive cells are damaged so that the thyroid can shrink in size and produce hormones at normal levels. Although this is a safe treatment, most people eventually become hypothyroid after radioactive iodine therapy and therefore require lifelong thyroid hormone replacement therapy. Radioactive iodine therapy cannot be given to pregnant women or those who are breastfeeding.
Surgery: In severe cases, surgery to remove the thyroid, called thyroidectomy, may be performed. If the thyroid is removed, replacement thyroid hormones must be taken for the rest of a person's life. Candidates for surgery may include pregnant hyperthyroid patients intolerant of antithyroid drugs, patients desiring definitive therapy without the use of radioactive iodine, children and patients with very large or nodular goiters.
Other Medications: Occasionally, drugs known as beta adrenergic blocking agents are prescribed to block the action of thyroid hormone on the heart and thus relieve symptoms. Unless the hyperthyroidism is caused by thyroiditis, these drugs are used in conjunction with other treatments.
Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.