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2023-05-22 12:00:00

Hypothyroidism vs Hyperthyroidism: How Do They Compare?

man standing

The thyroid is a small gland with a big job. It produces hormones — namely, thyroxine or tetraiodothyronine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3) — that impact nearly every organ in the body and can affect all of the functions happening inside of you. These include your heart, body weight, metabolism, mood, digestion, and blood pressure. What if something goes wrong? Well, there are various types of thyroid disorders, including tumors, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, hypothyroidism, and hyperthyroidism. This blog will focus on hypothyroidism vs hyperthyroidism, how they’re different, the symptoms, and when you should see your healthcare provider.

Hypothyroidism vs Hyperthyroidism: What’s the Difference?

Hypothyroidism is the most common type of thyroid disease. It happens when the thyroid gland is underactive and not making enough hormones. On the other hand, hyperthyroidism happens when the thyroid is overactive. It produces too much thyroid hormone, which ultimately makes your metabolism work faster than it should.

As their names suggest, in many ways, these two thyroid diseases have opposing symptoms. Signs of hypothyroidism include:

Symptoms of hyperthyroidism include:

Model heart textbook

What Causes Them?

There are various potential causes of hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism. The most common cause of hypothyroidism is an autoimmune disorder — which occurs when the immune system attacks itself, making antibodies that work against the thyroid. Additionally, treatment for hyperthyroidism, such as radioactive iodine therapy, can lead to hypothyroidism. Sometimes, hypothyroidism can lead to secondary hypothyroidism. This means that the pituitary gland stops functioning properly, no longer telling the thyroid to make its hormones.

Graves’ disease — an autoimmune disorder where an antibody overstimulates the thyroid — is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism.

Hyperthyroidism can also be caused by a toxic nodular goiter, when one or several lumps (called nodules) on the thyroid become overactive. This can make the thyroid itself enlarged.

Finally, there’s thyroiditis — which means that the gland is irritated in some way. Subsequently, people with thyroiditis often experience an underactive thyroid.

It’s worth noting that thyroid dysfunction can occur as a result of stress and a diet lacking certain nutrients. So, eating the right foods, getting plenty of sleep, and finding healthy ways to manage your stress are of utmost importance. However, eating the “right foods” can look different for everyone. Getting adequate sleep isn’t always easy. And managing anxiety can be a huge challenge. Don’t be ashamed if you can’t address your thyroid problems on your own!

Biting into a green apple

Hyperthyroidism vs hypothyroidism: Even with the differing symptoms, it can sometimes be difficult to determine what you might be dealing with. Genetics are a big determining factor in whether or not someone might be dealing with thyroid problems. In fact, research tells us that up to 67% of thyroid hormone and thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) concentrations could be genetically determined! So, if thyroid problems run in your family, that can give you some clues. However, the best thing you can do is visit your healthcare provider for lab work. (More on that in a moment.)

How Dangerous are Thyroid Problems?

If left untreated, thyroid problems can be a huge risk to your health. If you have hyperthyroidism and don’t get it addressed, it can be potentially fatal. In very rare cases, hypothyroidism can be life-threatening. This is called myxoedema coma, when the hormone levels become dangerously low, leading to confusion, drowsiness, and hypothermia.

Fortunately, thyroid problems are very treatable.

How Do You Treat Thyroid Problems?

To counterbalance an underactive thyroid, your healthcare provider might prescribe you a hormone replacement tablet called levothyroxine. This replaces the thyroxine hormone that your gland isn’t able to make enough of.

On the flip side, anti-thyroid medicine — like methimazole and propylthiouracil — is something prescribed to people with overactive thyroids. This stops the gland from making too many hormones. There are also beta blockers, which don’t impact the thyroid hormones themselves but rather reduce your symptoms. Radioiodine therapy basically tells the thyroid to slow down so it’s less active.

Sometimes, surgery is necessary. During a thyroidectomy, the surgeon will remove part or all of the gland. In the event that you undergo a partial or total thyroid removal, you will likely need to be on levothyroxine for life, so that your body still has the thyroid hormones that it needs to function properly.

Doctor performing surgery

How Do You Know if You Have a Thyroid Problem?

The tricky thing about the symptoms of hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism is that they could be an indication of… a million different things. You could be exhausted or nervous or gaining weight for a variety of reasons.

The easiest and most accurate way to determine if your thyroid is malfunctioning is through bloodwork to check your thyroid hormone levels. eNational’s Thyroid Health Panel checks your thyroid stimulating hormone, free T4, and T3. Results of the blood draw are sometimes available within one business day (although it can take up to three business days), and if follow-up treatment or testing is necessary, you’ll be able to speak with a healthcare provider.

If you think you might be dealing with thyroid disease, you’re not alone. In fact, roughly 20 million people in the United States are experiencing this. The first step? Bloodwork. With one test, you can gain insight into how well your thyroid is functioning and any challenges the gland might be experiencing. While thyroid problems can seriously hamper your quality of life, they are detectable and treatable! Get ahead of your health and order your Thyroid Health Panel today with eNational.