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Hyperthyroidism: Care Instructions

Your Care Instructions

Hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland makes too much thyroid hormone. This speeds up your metabolism—how your body uses energy. This condition can cause you to be very active, lose weight, and have sleep problems, eye problems, and a fast heart rate. It can also cause a goiter. A goiter is an enlarged thyroid gland that you can see at the front of the neck.

Hyperthyroidism is often caused by Graves' disease. In Graves' disease, the body's defence (immune) system attacks the thyroid gland.

Your doctor may prescribe a beta-blocker medicine to slow your pulse and calm you down. But this is not a treatment for hyperthyroidism. It is given for your fast heart rate. Your doctor may also give you antithyroid medicine. This medicine keeps excess thyroid hormone in check. In some cases, doctors recommend radioactive iodine or surgery to remove the thyroid. After either of these treatments, you may need to take medicine to replace thyroid hormone for the rest of your life.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. You need to take the thyroid medicine at the same time each day. Call your doctor or nurse advice line if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.
  • Graves' disease can make your eyes sore. Use artificial tears, eye drops, and sunglasses to protect your eyes from dryness, wind, and sun. Raise your head with pillows at night to prevent your eyes from swelling. In some cases, taping your eyelids shut at night will keep your eyes from being dry in the morning.
  • Make sure you get enough calcium. Foods that are rich in calcium include milk, yogurt, cheese, and dark green vegetables.
  • If you need to gain weight, ask your doctor about special diets.
  • Do not eat kelp. Kelp is high in iodine, which can make hyperthyroidism worse. Kelp is commonly used in sushi and other Japanese foods. You can use iodized salt and eat bread and seafood. Try to eat a balanced diet.
  • Do not use caffeine and other stimulants. These can make symptoms worse, such as a fast heartbeat, nervousness, and problems focusing.
  • Do not smoke. Smoking can make your condition worse and may lead to more serious eye problems. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
  • Lower your stress. Learn to use biofeedback, guided imagery, meditation, or other methods to relax.
  • Use creams or ointments for irritated skin. Ask your doctor which type to use.
  • Tell all your doctors about your condition. They need to know because some medicines contain iodine.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have symptoms of a sudden, very high thyroid level (thyroid storm). These include:
    • Being nauseated, vomiting, and having diarrhea.
    • Sweating a lot.
    • Feeling extremely restless and confused.
    • Having a high fever.
    • Having a fast heartbeat.
  • You have sudden vision changes or eye pain.
  • You have a fever or severe sore throat and are taking antithyroid medicines, such as PTU or methimazole.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • You have a sore throat or have problems swallowing.
  • You have swollen, itchy, or red eyes or your other eye symptoms get worse, or you have new vision problems.
  • You have signs of a low thyroid level (hypothyroidism). You may feel very tired, confused, or weak.

Where can you learn more?

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.