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Researchers Reveal Newly Discovered Effect of Toxic Goiter on Brain

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Toxic goiter affects the brain more than was previously known, a University of Gothenburg study shows, and involves volume changes occurring in central parts of the brain. These findings are described as a key advance for a vulnerable group of patients.

Toxic goiter, or hyperthyroidism, is a relatively common condition. Its incidence rises with age and most people who suffer from it are women. Hyperthyroidism is characterized by excessive hormone production in the thyroid gland, which speeds up metabolism and makes many processes work faster. Sweating, palpitations, and fatigue are common symptoms.

Thyroid disorders have long been known to cause both physical and mental symptoms. Previously, these symptoms were thought to be associated only with abnormal hormone levels. Now, however, researchers from the University of Gothenburg and Sahlgrenska University Hospital are finding physiological brain changes in hyperthyroidism.

The patient base in the present study comprised 62 women recently diagnosed with Graves’ disease, the most common form of hyperthyroidism. The women underwent various investigations and, after treatment, 48 of them were followed up for a set period of 15 months. The results were compared with those from a group with normal thyroid function who were examined at corresponding intervals.

‘Every participant underwent a thorough investigation of mental symptoms and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain, focusing particularly on central parts of the brain, such as the hippocampus and amygdala –  areas we know are often implicated in altered cognitive function in other pathological conditions,’ says Mats Holmberg, chief physician and researcher in endocrinology, who is the study’s lead author.

What the scientists show in their study, published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, is that central parts of the brain shrink when hormone levels are high, and that these parts largely resume their normal size when the hormone levels normalise and symptoms subside.

‘The fact that we can now show that the brain is genuinely affected is highly significant for the future. For decades, the patients in our group have testified that they don’t feel they’ve recovered, and we hope our study will provide further clues about what happens in the brain,’ says Filipsson Nyström who is an associate professor of endocrinology at Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg.

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