Complications can happen with an overactive thyroid, particularly if the condition isn't treated.
Eye problems affect around 1 in 3 people with an overactive thyroid caused by Graves' disease.
Eye problems can include:
- the eyes feeling dry and gritty
- sensitivity to light
- watering eyes
- blurred or double vision
- red eyes
- red, swollen or pulled back eyelids
- bulging eyes
Many cases are mild and get better as your overactive thyroid is treated. In around one in every 20 to 30 cases there's a risk of vision loss.
If you have eye problems, you will be referred to an eye specialist (ophthalmologist) for treatment. This could be eye drops, steroid medication or surgery.
Treatment for an overactive thyroid often results in hormone levels that are too low. This is known as an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism).
Symptoms of an underactive thyroid can include:
- sensitivity to cold
- weight gain
An underactive thyroid is sometimes only temporary. But often it's permanent and needs long-term treatment with thyroid hormone medication.
If you have an overactive thyroid during pregnancy and your condition isn't well controlled, it can increase the risk of:
- giving birth prematurely
- your baby having a low birthweight
Tell your GP if you're planning a pregnancy or you think you might be pregnant.
They will want to check that your condition is under control. They may recommend switching to a treatment that won't affect the baby.
If you're not planning a pregnancy, it's important to use contraception. This is because some treatments for an overactive thyroid can harm an unborn baby.
In rare cases, an undiagnosed or poorly controlled overactive thyroid can lead to a serious, life-threatening reaction. This is called a thyroid storm.
This is a sudden flare-up of symptoms that can be triggered by:
- an infection
- not taking your medication correctly
- damage to the thyroid gland, such as a punch to the throat
Immediate action required: A thyroid storm is a medical emergency. If you think you or someone in your care is experiencing it, call 999 for an ambulance immediately.
Symptoms of a thyroid storm include:
- a rapid heartbeat
- a high temperature over 38 degrees Celsius
- diarrhoea and vomiting
- yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
- severe agitation and confusion
- loss of consciousness
An overactive thyroid can also increase your chances of developing:
- atrial fibrillation – a heart condition that causes an irregular and often abnormally fast heart rate
- weakened bones (osteoporosis) – this can make your bones fragile and more likely to break
- heart failure – where the heart is unable to pump blood around the body properly
Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE