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Hypothyroidism vs. Hyperthyroidism: Disorders in Nursing School

Hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism are disorders that are often confused and difficult to remember- so we’re here to help make it super simple!

Meet Your Thyroid

Your thyroid is that small butterfly-shaped gland at the front of your neck. As part of the endocrine system, part of this little guy’s job is to regulate your basal metabolic rate. Think about when you hear people talk about having a “fast metabolism” or a “slow metabolism,” well, that’s all thanks to the thyroid and the hormones it releases, specifically T3 (triiodothyronine) and T4 (thyroxine). When we have too little or too much thyroid hormone, that’s where we get into trouble!

What is Hypothyroidism?

Hypothyroidism

Occurs when there are not enough thyroid hormones being released into your body. So essentially, everything slows down. Now, think this through, if everything is slowing down, what kind of signs and symptoms are you most likely going to see? Well, the heart rate will slow, so bradycardia will be common, along with hypotension. The GI system will be sluggish, so constipation is often present. Cold intolerance is also a complaint, in addition to overall fatigue, lethargy and weight gain. Think slow, slow, slow.

What is Hyperthyroidism?

Once you’ve got the concept of hypothyroidism down, it’s pretty easy to understand

Hyperthyroidism

Just think the opposite! Here, everything will be sped up. Think tachycardia, hypertension and tremors. No constipation here; the GI system will be sped up, so welcome diarrhea into the picture. And since everything is on overdrive, weight loss will be another sign.  

Solving the Problem

So, now that we’ve covered that, what medications are used to treat these disorders? Levothyroxine is a synthetic form of T4, which is used in the treatment of hypothyroidism. Now be careful here, because too much Levothyroxine can increase the level of T4 so much, that it may cause symptoms like tachycardia, tremors, diarrhea, insomnia, weight loss…sound familiar? Pretty much the same signs and symptoms of hyperthyroidism, right? Ding, Ding, Ding!

What about hyperthyroidism; how do we treat that? Generally, medications such as  Propylthiouracil (PTU) and Methimazole are indicated for use in patients with hyperthyroidism. These drugs inhibit thyroid hormone synthesis, helping to alleviate symptoms. Hepatotoxicity is something to watch out for here when a patient is taking PTU, because although rare, it can cause fulminant liver failure at any course during treatment. Another important note is that methimazole is linked with a teratogenic effect known as aplasia cutis, which is a congenital focal absence of epidermis. Because of this, pregnant patients with hyperthyroidism should be placed on PTU instead of methimazole, especially in the first trimester of pregnancy.

So there you have a high-level summary of hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism. Be sure visit picmonic.com to learn more about these and other endocrine disorders and medications!

Good luck studying!

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Marlee Liberman

Marlee Liberman, RN, Master Nursing Scholar

As a registered nurse, Marlee understands the struggles that nursing school throws at you – not to mention the overwhelming pressure preparing for the NCLEX®! Marlee brings a unique skill set and perspective to Picmonic with her previous degree in broadcast journalism, her creativity in video production, and her wandering nomad lifestyle. Her blend of talents provides her with the knack for simplifying complicated concepts and demystifying the world of nursing.

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