Three treatment options for an overactive thyroid gland


DEAR DR. DONOHUE: It’s only taken a full year and a half and three doctors to finally diagnose me as having Graves’ disease. I’m glad to know what I have, but I am upset at how long it took to find out. At one point, I was told my symptoms were all in my head.

Now that the diagnosis has been made, I am facing the prospect of deciding what the best treatment is. I would appreciate your opinion. — E.E.

ANSWER: Graves’ disease is a thyroid gland that has gone wild. The actual culprit is the immune system. It makes antibodies that stimulate the thyroid gland to overproduce thyroid hormone. Excessive thyroid hormone produces the myriad signs and symptoms of this illness. The heart beats fast even when a person is sitting quietly. People are warm and might sweat when others are quite comfortable. Weight loss in the face of increased calorie consumption indicates that all body processes are in overdrive. Menstrual periods become irregular. The hands might develop a trembling. Often the eyes bulge, because excessive thyroid hormone fills the eye sockets with a gooey material. The thyroid gland enlarges and becomes a goiter.

In the days before effective treatments, the death rate for Graves’ disease was between 10 percent and 30 percent.

You have a pick of three quite different treatments. Your doctor will help you make the choice based on your specific situation.

Oral medicines can stop the overproduction of thyroid hormone. The two most commonly prescribed are Tapazole and PTU. The only drawback to oral medicines is that Graves’s disease can recur after the pills are stopped.


Surgical removal of the gland is another option. That eradicates the problem.

In North America, radioactive iodine is the treatment chosen most often. Iodine makes a beeline to the thyroid gland, and the radioactivity destroys it. After this treatment and after surgery, people have to take replacement thyroid for the rest of their lives. That entails taking only one tablet a day.

The booklet on thyroid problems discusses them in depth. Readers can obtain a copy by writing: Dr. Donohue — No. 401, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 U.S./$6 Can. with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am 16. I have had menstrual periods for three years. I am very much in the dark about them. How long is normal for a period? How much blood is lost with each? I don’t have cramps or any kind of pain. I hardly know I’m having one. I’ve never discussed this with anyone. — D.J.

ANSWER: Three to six days of bleeding are normal for a period. Around 1 to 2 ounces (30 ml to 60 ml) of blood is lost. The first day of bleeding marks the first day of the menstrual cycle. A normal cycle is approximately 28 days, with a range of 24 to 35 days.

In the first five to seven years of menstruation, cycles are not as regular as they eventually become. Don’t worry if yours are not exactly what I have outlined.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: When I visited my grandmother on my grandparents’ farm, she used to speak about blackstrap molasses all the time. I asked my mother about it, and she shuddered. My mother never gave it to us kids. I’ve been curious about it for a long time. Is it a remedy for anything? — C.A.

ANSWER: Molasses comes from the syrupy residue left from processing sugar cane into table sugar. When that syrup is boiled once, it becomes molasses. When it is boiled three times, it’s blackstrap molasses. It has calcium, potassium, copper and iron.

I don’t know if it’s a remedy or a preventive for anything. I’ve never tasted it. I don’t think I ever will.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Readers may also order health newsletters from