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Factitious hyperthyroidism

Definition

Factitious hyperthyroidism is higher-than-normal thyroid hormone levels in the blood that occur from taking too much thyroid hormone medication.

Alternative Names

Factitious thyrotoxicosis; thyrotoxicosis factitia; thyrotoxicosis medicamentosa

Causes

The thyroid gland produces the hormones thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). In most cases of hyperthyroidism, the thyroid gland itself produces too much of these hormones.

Hyperthyroidism can also be caused by taking too much thyroid hormone medication for hypothyroidism. This is called factitious hyperthyroidism. When this occurs because the prescribed dosage of hormone medication is too high, it is called iatrogenic, or doctor-induced, hyperthyroidism.

Factitious hyperthyroidism can also occur when a patient intentionally takes too much thyroid hormone, such as in people:

  • Who have psychiatric disorders such as Munchausen syndrome
  • Who are trying to lose weight
  • Who want to get compensation from the insurance company

Children may take thyroid hormone pills accidentally.

In rare cases, factitious hyperthyroidism is caused by eating meat contaminated with thyroid gland tissue.

Symptoms

The symptoms of factitious hyperthyroidism are the same as those of hyperthyroidism caused by the thyroid gland, except that:

  • There is no goiter. The thyroid gland is usually small.
  • The eyes do not bulge, as they do in Graves disease (the most common type of hyperthyroidism).
  • The skin over the shins does not thicken, as it sometimes does in people who have Graves disease.

Exams and Tests

Tests used to diagnose factitious hyperthyroidism include:

Treatment

You must stop taking thyroid hormone. If you need to take this medicine, you will have to reduce the dosage.

You should be re-checked in 2 - 4 weeks to be sure that the signs and symptoms of hyperthyroidism are gone. This also helps to confirm the diagnosis.

People with Munchausen syndrome will need mental health treatment and follow-up.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Factitious hyperthyroidism will clear up on its own when you stop taking or lower the dosage of thyroid hormone.

Possible Complications

When factitious hyperthyroidism lasts a long time, patients are at risk of having the same complications as untreated or improperly treated hyperthyroidism caused by the thyroid gland.

These complications include:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Contact your health care provider if you experience any of the symptoms of hyperthyroidism.

Prevention

Thyroid hormone should be taken only by prescription and under the supervision of a doctor.

References

Mandel SJ, Larsen PR, Davies TF. Thyrotoxicosis. In: Melmed S, Polonsky KS, Larsen PR, Kronenberg HM, eds. Williams Textbook of Endocrinology. 12th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 12.


Review Date: 5/29/2014
Reviewed By: Yi-Bin Chen, MD, Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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