Hyperthyroidism is a disease or condition where your thyroid gland produces excessive amounts of thyroid hormones than your body requires, another term used is “overactive thyroid.” The excessive amount of thyroid hormone can harm the health of your heart, muscles, semen quality, and others if not treated effectively.
The thyroid gland is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located in the neck area. The hormones made by the thyroid gland affect your energy level, metabolism and the functioning of most of your organs.
The more common opposite condition of hyperthyroidism is hypothyroidism, also known as “under-active thyroid,” this occurs when the gland is unable to produce adequate enough thyroid hormones to accommodate the body’s needs.
In women the occurrence of the overactive thyroid is 2 to 10 times more likely than in men, male hyperthyroidism does occur and usually requires medications to treat. Men and women share mostly the same hyperthyroidism symptoms, but there are some symptoms that are unique to men which we would discuss later.
Causes of hyperthyroidism in men
Graves’ disease is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism in men, though women are still more likely to develop this autoimmune disorder.
Graves’ disease is an autoimmune condition in which your immune system mistakenly attacks your healthy thyroid gland, which results in it producing too much thyroid hormone. It usually develops between the ages of 30 and 50, though it can occur at any age.
Further causes of hyperthyroidism include:
- Nodules are abnormal clusters of thyroid cells within the gland
- Plummer’s disease, also known as toxic nodular goiter, is more common in women and people over the age of 60
- Thyroiditis is any condition that causes inflammation of the thyroid gland
- Excessive iodine intake from medicines or diet
General symptoms of hyperthyroidism
Common symptoms of hyperthyroidism include:
- Unexpected weight loss, even when food consumption and appetite remain unchanged
- Irregular heartbeat
- Heart palpitations
- Tremor (usually trembling of the fingers and hands)
- Increased sensitivity to heat and/or cold
- More frequent bowel movements
- Muscle weakness
- Hair thinning
Male-specific symptoms of hyperthyroidism
Though men and women tend to share most of the same common symptoms of hyperthyroidism, there are a few important complications that affect men only.
In particular, an overactive thyroid can contribute to erectile dysfunction (ED), as well as a low sperm count. Premature balding can also be a sign of hyperthyroidism in men.
Too much thyroid hormone can also cause lower levels of testosterone, which can lead to several complications. For example, men may also be more noticeably affected by a loss of muscle mass caused by hyperthyroidism.
Osteoporosis triggered by an overactive thyroid may also take men by surprise, as this bone-thinning disease is most often associated with women. A condition known as gynecomastia (male breast enlargement) can also be a result of hyperthyroidism.
Symptoms related to male sexual health
Thyroid hormones affect the function of the Leydig cells in your testes, too much or too little thyroid hormone can compromise the function of the Leydig cells, which help produce and secrete testosterone.
Hyperthyroidism also affects sperm cells, leading to reduced sperm density and motility (how well sperm can move or “swim”). It can also affect the shape or form of the sperm cells themselves.
Thyroid disease is also speculated to be associated with erectile dysfunction, though the connection still isn’t very much understood. Both overactive and underactive thyroid disorders may affect erectile function, with hypothyroidism tending to be more commonly linked to ED.
ED and compromised sperm quality can lead to infertility. If you and your partner have been having difficulty conceiving a baby, a semen analysis may help lead to a solution. A low sperm count should be followed by a blood test of thyroid hormone levels. These are simple tests that could lead to a treatment that will balance out your hormone levels, which in turn may help improve your sexual health.
Treatment of hyperthyroidism in men
Unlike hypothyroidism, which can usually be managed by taking a synthetic thyroid hormone, management of hyperthyroidism is much more complicated. The options for overactive thyroid treatment include:
- Antithyroid medications, such as methimazole, reduce thyroid hormone production.
- Surgery to remove all or part of the thyroid results in having to take synthetic hormones.
- Radioiodine therapy involves taking radioactive iodine-131 by mouth. The iodine slowly kills some of the cells making thyroid hormone with the goal of bringing hormone production into a normal, healthy range. This is a widely used therapy that can sometimes require more than one treatment.
In addition to the treatment of symptoms related to hyperthyroidism such as heart rate, weight, energy, and other complications, treatment of hyperthyroidism may also help resolve sexual dysfunction problems.
When to see your doctor
If you have symptoms of hyperthyroidism, don’t wait to be tested for this disorder. Your health may be compromised without you realizing it. The thyroid function test (T3 and T4) is an easy and widely available blood test.
Discuss all the risks and benefits of various treatment options before committing to one approach. Starting treatment early can help reduce the long-term side effects.