Harvard Women's Health Watch

Ask the doctor: How should I treat hyperthyroidism?

Q. I have hyperthyroidism and my doctor wants me to undergo radioactive iodine treatment. It seems a bit scary. Must I do it?

A. Depending on the cause of your overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism), radioactive iodine treatment may be a good option for you, but you have other choices.

The treatment of hyperthyroidism is aimed at reducing the symptoms and decreasing the levels of thyroid hormone in the blood. The approaches for reducing thyroid hormone levels are drugs, radioactive iodine, and surgery. Beta-blocker drugs quell tremors, palpitations, rapid heartbeat, and sweating. Methimazole (Tapazole) and propylthiouracil (PTU) are drugs that block the production of thyroid hormone. These drugs can be taken for years, and about 30% of people with Graves' disease will go into remission after long-term drug treatment. However, both drugs have side effects, including itching, rash, joint pain, fever, nausea, and a change in the ability to taste. For these reasons, many doctors encourage radioiodine treatment, which destroys thyroid tissue, but has none of the adverse side effects of the anti-thyroid drugs.

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