Although the butterfly-shaped gland at the base of your neck just below your Adam’s apple weighs less than an ounce, your thyroid has an enormous impact on your health. It secretes hormones that regulate every aspect of your metabolism (the way your body uses energy) as well as your breathing, heart rate, nervous system, weight, body temperature and other bodily functions. Hyperthyroidism, or overactive thyroid, can cause a wide variety of life-disrupting symptoms. A new study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism correlates this condition with prolonged work absences.
Recognizing Overactive Thyroid Symptoms
Normally, your immune system uses antibodies to protect you from viruses, bacteria and other foreign substances invading your body. But Graves’ disease, the most common cause of hyperthyroidism, creates havoc in women most often. This hereditary autoimmune disorder causes these antibodies to attack your thyroid. The thyroid-stimulating immunoglobulin (TSI) triggers your gland to make excessive amounts of the hormone that speeds up your body’s processes.
Hyperthyroid symptoms include nervousness, anxiety, irritability, rapid heartbeat (tachycardia), irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia), heart palpitations, hand tremors, fatigue or muscle weakness, mood swings, excessive sweating, weight loss, increased appetite, sleep problems, increased bowel movement frequency and light or skipped periods. Graves’ disease also can lead to a swollen thyroid gland, or goiter, as well as eye problems, skin thinning or dryness and fine, brittle hair. Older adults are more likely to have no symptoms or subtle signs such as increased heart rate, heat intolerance and tiredness during ordinary activities.
Determining Work Absence Rates in Year After Diagnoses
People with hyperthyroidism are more likely to take extended sick leaves from work than colleagues without this disorder, according to new longitudinal register research. The largest systematic assessment of the effect of thyroid conditions on the workplace to date reported that this is especially true during the first year after diagnosis. Absences occurred most with complications from Graves’ disease.
Researchers analyzed sick leave and disability pension claims for 862 Danish workers who received thyroid treatment at two participating university outpatient clinics. They compared those statistics to national and municipal records of a 7043-subject control group without thyroid problems. Hyperthyroid patients had significantly higher risks of missing work for at least three weeks in a row, compared to healthy controls. In Denmark, local municipalities compensate employees who take more than three weeks of sick leave, so the researchers were able to track when subjects missed work for extended periods due to illness.
Employees with eye complications from Graves’ disease were seven times more likely to take lengthy sick leaves within a year of diagnoses than those in the control group. Their risks dropped in subsequent years to twice as high. Eye complications made people four times more likely to leave the workforce permanently or retire on disability pensions than those in the control group. Compared to healthy subjects, workers who had hyperthyroidism without eye complications were nearly twice as likely to take extended sick leaves during the year after diagnoses.
The study also examined records for people with hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroid. While this condition didn’t affect taking long sick leaves significantly, personnel with hypothyroidism faced lengthier recoveries than healthy peers in the first year following diagnoses. In subsequent years, the researchers didn’t find substantial indications that underactive thyroids affected workplace absenteeism.
Avoiding Hyperthyroidism Complications
Seeking treatment can help minimize these hyperthyroid side effects.
Heart problems: The most serious overactive thyroid consequences affect your heart. They include rapid heart rate, atrial fibrillation (a heart rhythm disorder) and congestive heart failure (when your heart can’t circulate enough blood to meet your body’s needs). Generally, these complications are reversible with appropriate treatment.
Brittle bones: Your bones’ calcium and mineral content affects their strength. Too much thyroid hormone interferes with your body’s ability to incorporate calcium into your bones. Untreated hyperthyroidism can lead to osteoporosis with possible weak, brittle bone breakages.
Eye problems: Graves’ ophthalmopathy is a rare inflammatory condition that causes bulging, red, swollen eyes. You may experience excessive tearing or discomfort, sensitivity to light, blurry or double vision and reduced eye movement. The front surface of your eyeballs can become very dry. Untreated severe eye problems can lead to vision loss.
Red, swollen skin: In rare cases, Graves’ disease patients develop Graves’ dermopathy, which causes redness and swelling on the shins and feet.
Thyrotoxic crisis: A sudden intensification of your symptoms that leads to a fever, rapid pulse and delirium requires immediate medical care.
Exploring Your Treatment Options
The study investigators noted that people with thyroid conditions need proper health care because their findings indicated that work attendance improved after medical intervention. Although hyperthyroidism can be serious if you ignore it, most people respond well once they receive hyperthyroid diagnoses and treatment.
Antithyroid medications like Tapazole (Methimazole) interfere with the production of thyroid hormones to relieve your symptoms. Your doctor also may prescribe a beta-blocker to hinder the effects of thyroid hormones on your body. This add-on remedy can help slow down a rapid heart rate and reduce hand tremors.
Another option is radioactive iodine therapy to damage the cells that make thyroid hormones. In rare cases, surgery to remove part or all of the thyroid gland may be necessary. Based on the severity and underlying cause of your symptoms, your age and additional medical conditions, you and your doctor can determine the best treatment plan to bring you relief.