Overactive thyroid - Complications 

Complications of overactive thyroid 

Several complications can occur with an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism), particularly if the condition is not treated.

Graves' ophthalmopathy

If you have Graves' disease, you may have problems with your eyes. This is known as Graves' ophthalmopathy and is thought to be caused by the immune system mistakenly attacking the tissues of the eyes. It affects around 1 in 20 people with Graves’ disease.

Symptoms of Graves' ophthalmopathy include:

  • your eyes feel dry and gritty
  • sensitivity to light (photophobia)
  • excessive tearing
  • double vision 
  • some loss of vision
  • a feeling of pressure behind the eyes

In more severe cases your eyes can bulge prominently from your eye sockets.

If you do develop Graves' ophthalmopathy you will probably be referred to an eye specialist (ophthalmologist) for treatment.

Treatment options include:

  • eyedrops to ease the symptoms
  • sunglasses to protect the eyes against the effects of bright lights
  • corticosteroids to reduce inflammation

Pregnancy and overactive thyroid

Some women are pregnant when they are first diagnosed with an overactive thyroid gland. Also, becoming pregnant can lead to a relapse of symptoms, especially in someone with a history of Graves’ disease.

Pregnant women with an overactive thyroid are at an increased risk of developing complications during pregnancy and birth, such as miscarriage and eclampsia.

They are also more at risk of going into labour prematurely and having a baby with a low birthweight.

They will need specialist treatment so the condition can be managed using medications that should not affect the baby. This is likely to be a medication called propylthiouracil.

Underactive thyroid

In many cases treatment causes the thyroid gland to release levels of hormones that are too low. This is known as having an underactive thyroid gland or hypothyroidism.

Sometimes this will only be a temporary side effect of treatment but it can often be permanent.

Symptoms of an underactive thyroid gland include:

An underactive thyroid gland is treated using medications to help replicate the effects of the thyroid hormones. Read more about the treatment of an underactive thyroid gland.

Thyroid storm

Undiagnosed or poorly controlled overactive thyroid can lead to a rare but serious reaction called a thyroid storm. It affects around 1 in 100 people with an overactive thyroid gland.

A thyroid storm is a severe and sudden flare-up of symptoms caused by the metabolism going into overdrive, often due to triggers such as:

  • infection
  • pregnancy
  • not taking your medication as directed
  • damage to the thyroid gland, such as a punch to the throat

Symptoms of a thyroid storm include:

  • a very rapid heartbeat (over 140 beats a minute)
  • fever (a temperature higher than 38°C/100.4°F)
  • dehydration, with diarrhoea and vomiting
  • jaundice – a yellow tinge to your skin and eyes
  • severe agitation and confusion
  • hallucinations – seeing or hearing things that are not real
  • psychosis – being unable to tell the difference between reality and your imagination
  • excessive sweating 
  • chest pain
  • muscle weakness

A thyroid storm is a medical emergency. If you think you or someone in your care is experiencing this complication you need to call 999 for an ambulance.

Page last reviewed: 22/05/2012

Next review due: 22/05/2014

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Comments

The 2 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

buttons1701 said on 12 August 2013

A member of my family suffers from under-active thyroids she has been taking all the medication her GP had ordered and she has never missed one but a family friend has the same condition but her under-active thyroids are turning over-active she told us her symptoms and the member of my family has the same symptoms is it even possible for her under-active thyroids to change to over-active.

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robertsooty said on 10 July 2012

i just have a quiery,

my girlfriend recently had a radioiodine tablet to cure an overactive thyroid, this was 5 days ago and we recently had sex,

was it safe to do so and if not should i go to the doctors myself and whats the safest amount of time to wait before you are allowed?

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