What Happens If Hyperthyroidism Goes Untreated?

The thyroid is a small gland that produces hormones that control the body's use of energy. These hormones affect many vital functions such as breathing, heart rate, and digestion. Hyperthyroidism develops when a person's thyroid gland produces more hormones than necessary (per U.S. National Library of Medicine).

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), hyperthyroidism affects roughly 1 percent of Americans over the age of 12. It is particularly common in women and people over the age of 60. Certain health conditions such as anemia, diabetes, or hormone disorders can also predispose a person to hyperthyroidism.

People with hyperthyroidism often experience irritability, insomnia, fatigue, shaky hands, muscle weakness, weight loss despite a healthy appetite, frequent bowel movements, and a fast or irregular heartbeat. An enlargement in the neck, known as a goiter, is also common. While none of these symptoms are pleasant, the effects of hyperthyroidism can become far more devastating if the condition is left untreated.

Untreated hyperthyroidism can lead to serious health problems

The U.S. National Library of Medicine notes that if left untreated, hyperthyroidism can predispose a person to blood clots, stroke, heart failure, and other heart problems. People with hyperthyroidism are also more likely to develop osteoporosis and fertility problems. Moreover, some people with hyperthyroidism develop an eye disease known as Graves' ophthalmopathy, which can lead not only to eye pain and double vision, but even to vision loss in rare cases. Untreated hyperthyroidism can be particularly dangerous during pregnancy, possibly leading to miscarriage, premature birth, and low birth weight.

The Cleveland Clinic recommends seeing a doctor if you experience any signs of hyperthyroidism. Your doctor can check for hyperthyroidism using a physical exam, blood test, or imaging test. If it turns out you do have the condition, hyperthyroidism is often managed with drugs, but according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, people who are pregnant or have large goiters may need surgery to remove part of their thyroids.