Hyperactive Thyroid Gland
ART ULENE, M.D. reporting:
The thyroid gland is a small gland located in your neck right, right here, right in front of your windpipe.
The gland produces a hormone that helps to regulate the body’s metabolism and the rate at which you burn
up calories. If the thyroid gland is underactive, the metabolism slows down. If it’s overactive—or
hyperactive, as we say in medicine–many body functions will seem to speed up.
LOUISE WAN: hot, and I can’t sleep. I’m really hyper. I don’t know why. Just jump around, and even
though I sit at the seat, maybe a couple of minutes I ha–I need to switch.
ULENE: Five years ago, Louise Wan began to develop the classic symptoms of a hyperactive thyroid
gland: nervousness, shakiness, excessive warmth, weight loss, and heart palpitations. Louise went to Dr.
Richart Guttler, an endocrinologist, who found that her thyroid gland was slightly enlarged. He examined
her for signs of hyperthyroidism, and ordered a blood test to check her thyroid hormone levels. They were
Dr. Guttler also did a radioactive scan to measure how quickly her thyroid was processing iodine, which is
an essential ingredient in thyroid hormone. The test uses minute amounts of radioactive iodine, not
enough to damage any tissues in the body. The iodine is concentrated by the body in the thyroid gland. If
the gland is hyperactive, it will take in greater amounts than normal of the iodine and will appear dark,
like this scan. Dr. Guttler diagnosed Louise’s problem as Grave’s disease, a condition in which the
immune system manufactures abnormal antibodies which cause a speedup in the activity of the thyroid
RICHARD GUTTLER, MD (Endocrinologist): She had every classic symptom of Grave’s disease. She
was shaking, she was nervous, she was losing weight.
ULENE: Louise was then treated with radioactive iodine. She was given a much larger dose, large enough
to literally destroy the overactive gland. Today she takes thyroid hormone pills in just the right amount to
make up for what her gland can no longer produce.
GUTTLER: Do you see double when you go straight ahead?
MARY ANN LANGFORD: Um, no.
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GUTTLER: How about till, tell me when.
ULENE: Some patients with Grave’s disease, like Mary Ann Langford, also have problems with their
eyes. This protrusion is called exothelmus. It’s caused by swelling in the muscles behind the eyes.
LANGFORD: It felt like someone holding my eyes open, and blowing, and going outside in bright
sunlight. My eyes would water so badly that I couldn’t see.
ULENE: Recently, Mary Ann underwent surgery to extend the length of one of her eyelids. Now she can
close that eye, and is much more comfortable. The hyperthyroidism also caused changes in her skin,
which required treatment with cortisone cream. Her problems continue today, even though her thyroid
gland was removed twenty-five years ago.
GUTTLER: She’s a classic example of how you have Grave’s disease for your whole life. You don’t just
have Grave’s disease when your thyroid’s overactive. You can have trouble with your eyes and your skin
your whole life, and that’s exactly what happened to her.
ULENE: Lily O’Neary is at the opposite end of the spectrum.
LILY O’NEARY: My thyroid is hypro–it doesn’t work. So, I tired, I’m gaining weight, I had a headache.
ULENE: Lily had the classic symptoms of an underactive or hypoactive thyroid. She was always tired,
gaining weight, her face and hands were puffy, her reflexes were slow, and her hair and skin were dry. Dr.
Guttler noticed that her thyroid gland was enlarged, a condition called goiter. A blood test confirmed that
she had an underactive or hypothyroid condition, and she’s begun taking synthetic thyroid hormone to
normalize her body’s metabolism.
GUTTLER: Luckily, we have available the exact human thyroid, synthetically made in a factory, which is
exactly what your thyroid makes, so we can just give you your thyroid back in a pill. And the use of
thyroid medication is what turned her around.
ULENE: When your thyroid gland is overactive or underactive symptoms will appear, although they may
occur so gradually it takes a long time to notice them
In this 1990 report, NBC’s Dr. Art Ulene explains the biology behind overactive and underactive disorders
of the thyroid gland.
Thyroid Gland, Hyperthyroidism, Hypothyroidism, Overactive, Underactive, Thyroid, Hormone,
Endocrinologist, Iodine, Radioactive Iodine, Thyroid Hormone Pills, Grave’s Disease, Immune System,
Antibody, Exothalamus, Popeye, Cortisone Cream, Goiter, Enlarged Thyroid, Synthetic Hormone
“Hyperactive Thyroid Gland.” Art Ulene, correspondent.
NBC Today Show.
NBCUniversal Media. 16
Hyperactive Thyroid Gland