Thyroid storm

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Thyroid storm
Other names: Thyrotoxic crisis
Goiter in a person with hyperthyroidism
SymptomsFever, fast heart rate, vomiting, diarrhea, agitation[1]
ComplicationsHeart failure, psychosis, atrial fibrillation, liver problems[1]
CausesComplication of high thyroid[1]
Risk factorsOther illnesses such as infection or surgery; untreated high thyroid[1]
Diagnostic methodBased on symptoms[1]
Differential diagnosisSepsis, cocaine, pheochromocytoma, neuroleptic malignant syndrome[2]
TreatmentSupportive care, beta-blockers, antithyroid medications, potassium iodine, hydrocortisone[1]
DeathsRisk of death as high as 25% despite treatment[1][2]

Thyroid storm is a complication of high thyroid that typically result in fever, fast heart rate, vomiting, diarrhea, and agitation.[1] Temperatures may be greater than 41 °C (106 °F).[1] Occasionally it presents as weakness and blunted emotions.[1] Complications may include heart failure, psychosis, atrial fibrillation, or liver problems.[1]

Episodes are often triggered by other illnesses such as infection or surgery; though may also occur in those with simply untreated high thyroid.[1] The most common underlying cause of high thyroid is Graves' disease.[1] Diagnosis is based on symptoms.[1]

Initial treatment is with supportive care together with beta-blockers (propranolol or esmolol); antithyroid medications (propylthiouracil or methimazole); potassium iodine; and hydrocortisone.[1] Supportive measures may include intravenous fluids and temperature control.[1] Addressing any triggers is also required.[1] People often require admission to the intensive care unit.[1][3] The risk of death is as high as 25%, despite treatment.[1][2]

Thyroid storm is rare, affecting about 1 per 150,000 people per year in the United States.[1] Age of onset is often in peoples 40s.[2] It occurs three times more often in women compared to men.[2] The condition was initially described in 1926 by Lahey.[4]

Signs and symptoms

Thyroid storm is characterized by an acute onset of symptoms of hyperthyroidism (fast heart rate, restlessness, agitation) accompanied by other features such as fever (temperatures often above 40 °C/104 °F), hypertension, mental status changes, diarrhea, and vomiting.[5] Hypertension with a wide pulse pressure occurs in early to mid crisis, with hypotension accompanying shock occurring in the late stage.[6]

Individuals can exhibit varying signs of organ dysfunction. People may experience liver dysfunction, and jaundice (yellowing of the skin), which is considered a poor prognostic sign. Heart symptoms include abnormal heart rhythms, heart attack, and heart failure, which may lead to cardiovascular collapse. Mortality can be as high as 20–30%.[7]

In some situations, individuals may not experience the classic signs of restlessness and agitation, but instead present with weakness and confusion.[5]


Precipitating factors[5][4]
Diabetic ketoacidosis
Thyroid surgery
Non-thyroid surgery
Struma ovarii
Molar pregnancy
Trauma (i.e. hip fracture)
Myocardial infarction
Pulmonary embolism
Heart failure
Radioactive iodine treatment
Medication side effect
Exposure to iodinated contrast
Withdrawal of antithyroid treatment
Emotional stress

The transition from hyperthyroidism to thyroid storm is typically triggered by a non-thyroidal insult including, but not limited to fever, sepsis, dehydration, myocardial infarction, and psychiatric diseases.[vague][8][9] Individuals are at higher risk of thyroid storm if their hyperthyroidism is incompletely treated or if their anti-thyroid drugs are discontinued. Many of these individuals have underlying primary causes of hyperthyroidism (Graves' disease, toxic multi-nodular goiter, solitary toxic adenoma, or amiodarone). However, thyroid storm can occur in individuals with unrecognized thyrotoxicosis experiencing non-thyroid surgery, labor, infection, or exposure to certain medications and radiocontrast dyes.


Thyroid vector.svg

The precise mechanism for the development of thyroid storm is poorly understood. In the body, thyroid hormone may be free (biologically active T3/T4) or bound to thyroid binding hormone (biologically inactive) to be transported. The release of thyroid hormone is tightly regulated by a feedback system involving the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and thyroid gland. Hyperthyroidism results from a dysregulation of this system that eventually leads to increases in levels of free T3/T4. The transition from simple hyperthyroidism to the medical emergency of thyroid storm may be triggered by conditions (see Causes) that lead to the following:

Free thyroid hormone

Individuals with thyroid storm tend to have increased levels of free thyroid hormone, although total thyroid hormone levels may not be much higher than in uncomplicated hyperthyroidism.[4] The rise in the availability of free thyroid hormone may be the result of manipulating the thyroid gland. In the setting of an individual receiving radioactive iodine therapy, free thyroid hormone levels may acutely increase due to the release of hormone from ablated thyroid tissue.[citation needed]

Thyroid hormone binding protein

A decrease in thyroid hormone binding protein in the setting of various stressors or medications may also cause a rise in free thyroid hormone.[10]

Sensitivity to thyroid hormone

Along with increases in thyroid hormone availability, it is also suggested that thyroid storm is characterized by the body's heightened sensitivity to thyroid hormone, which may be related to sympathetic activation (see below).[4]

Sympathetic activation

Sympathetic nervous system activation during times of stress may also play a significant role in thyroid storm.[10] Sympathetic activation increases production of thyroid hormone by the thyroid gland. In the setting of elevated thyroid hormone, the density of thyroid hormone receptors (esp. beta-receptors) also increases, which enhances the response to catecholamines. This is likely responsible for several of the cardiovascular symptoms (increased cardiac output, heart rate, stroke volume) seen in thyroid storm.[citation needed][11]

Allostatic failure

According to newer theories, thyroid storm results from allostatic failure in a situation where thyrotoxicosis hampers the development of non-thyroidal illness syndrome,[12] which would help to save energy in critical illness and other situations of high metabolic demand.[9]

Usually, in critical illness (e.g. sepsis, myocardial infarction and other causes of shock) thyroid function is tuned down to result in low-T3 syndrome and, occasionally, also low TSH concentrations, low-T4 syndrome and impaired plasma protein binding of thyroid hormones. This endocrine pattern is referred to as euthyroid sick syndrome (ESS), non-thyroidal illness syndrome (NTIS) or thyroid allostasis in critical illness, tumours, uraemia and starvation (TACITUS). Although NTIS is associated with significantly worse prognosis, it is also assumed to represent a beneficial adaptation (type 1 allostasis). In cases, where critical illness is accompanied by thyrotoxicosis, this comorbidity prevents the down-regulation of thyroid function. Therefore, the consumption of energy, oxygen and glutathione remains high, which leads to further increased mortality.[12]

These new theories imply that thyroid storm results from an interaction of thyrotoxicosis with the specific response of the organism to an oversupply of thyroid hormones.[8]


The diagnosis of thyroid storm is based on the presence symptoms consistent with severe hyperthyroidism.[4] Multiple approaches have been proposed to calculate the probability of thyroid storm based on clinical criteria, however, none have been universally adopted. For instance, Burch and Wartofsky published the Burch-Wartofsky point scale (BWPS) in 1993, assigning a numerical value based on the presence of specific signs and symptoms organized within the following categories: temperature, cardiovascular dysfunction (including heart rate and presence of atrial fibrillation or congestive heart failure), central nervous system (CNS) dysfunction, gastrointestinal or liver dysfunction and presence of a precipitating event.[4][13] A Burch-Wartofsky score below 25 is not suggestive of thyroid storm whereas 25 to 45 suggests impending thyroid storm and greater than 45 suggests current thyroid storm.[14] Alternatively, the Japanese Thyroid Association (JTA) criteria, derived from a large cohort of patients with thyroid storm in Japan and published in 2012, provide a qualitative method to determine the probability of thyroid storm. The JTA criteria Archived 2023-07-02 at the Wayback Machine separate the diagnosis of thyroid storm into definite versus suspected based on the specific combination of signs and symptoms a patient exhibits and require elevated free triiodothyronine (T3) or free thyroxine (T4) for definite thyroid storm.[15]

Burch-Wartofsky point scale[4]
Temperature Score Heart rate Score Heart failure Score Atrial fibrillation Score CNS dysfunction Score Gastrointestinal or liver dysfunction Score Precipitating factors Score
37.2 °C (99.0 °F) to 37.7 °C (99.9 °F) 5 90 to 109 5 None 0 Absent 0 None 0 None 0 None 0
37.8 °C (100.0 °F) to 38.3 °C (100.9 °F) 10 110 to 119 10 Mild (i.e. pedal edema) 5 Present 10 Mild (e.g. agitation) 10 Moderate (e.g. diarrhea, nausea, vomiting or abdominal pain) 10 Present 10
38.4 °C (101.1 °F) to 38.8 °C (101.8 °F) 15 120 to 129 15 Moderate (i.e. bibasilar crackles) 10 Moderate (e.g. delirium, psychosis, lethargy) 20 Severe (i.e. jaundice) 20
38.9 °C (102.0 °F) to 39.4 °C (102.9 °F) 20 130 to 139 20 Severe (i.e. pulmonary edema) 15 Severe (e.g. seizure or coma) 30
39.5 °C (103.1 °F) to 39.9 °C (103.8 °F) 25 ≥140 25
≥40 °C (104 °F) 30

Laboratory findings

As with hyperthyroidism, TSH is suppressed. Both free and serum (or total) T3 and T4 are elevated.[5] An elevation in thyroid hormone levels is suggestive of thyroid storm when accompanied by signs of severe hyperthyroidism but is not diagnostic as it may also correlate with uncomplicated hyperthyroidism.[4][13] Moreover, serum T3 may be normal in critically ill patients due to decreased conversion of T4 to T3.[4] Other potential abnormalities include the following:[4][13]


The main strategies for the management of thyroid storm are reducing production and release of thyroid hormone, reducing the effects of thyroid hormone on tissues, replacing fluid losses, and controlling temperature.[10] Thyroid storm requires prompt treatment and hospitalization. Often, admission to the intensive care unit is needed.[16]

In high fever, temperature control is achieved with fever reducers such as paracetamol/acetaminophen and external cooling measures (cool blankets, ice packs). Dehydration, which occurs due to fluid loss from sweating, diarrhea, and vomiting, is treated with frequent fluid replacement.[16] In severe cases, mechanical ventilation may be necessary. Any suspected underlying cause is also addressed.[17]


Guidelines recommend the administration of inorganic iodide (potassium iodide or Lugol's iodine[3][16]) to reduce the synthesis and release of thyroid hormone. In high dosage, iodine may reduce the synthesis of thyroid hormone via the Wolff-Chaikoff effect and its release via the Plummer effect.[10] Some guidelines recommend that iodine be administered after antithyroid medications are started, because iodine is also a substrate for the synthesis of thyroid hormone, and may worsen hyperthyroidism if administered without antithyroid medications.[10]

Antithyroid medications

Antithyroid drugs (propylthiouracil or methimazole) are used to reduce the synthesis and release of thyroid hormone. Propylthiouracil is preferred over methimazole due to its additional effects on reducing peripheral conversion of T4 to T3,[10] however both are commonly used.

Beta blockers

The administration of beta-1-selective beta blockers (e.g. metoprolol) is recommended to reduce the effect of circulating thyroid hormone on end organs.[17][16][3]

Propranolol at high doses is a common first-line treatment, as it reduces peripheral conversion of T4 to T3, which is the more active form of thyroid hormone.[18][16] Non-selective beta blockers have been suggested to be beneficial due to their inhibitory effects on peripheral deiodinases. Some recent research suggests them to be associated with increased mortality.[19] Therefore, cardioselective beta blockers may be favourable.[9]


High levels of thyroid hormone result in a hypermetabolic state, which can result in increased breakdown of cortisol, a hormone produced by the adrenal gland. This results in a state of relative adrenal insufficiency, in which the amount of cortisol is not sufficient.[19] Guidelines recommend that corticosteroids (hydrocortisone and dexamethasone are preferred over prednisolone or methylprednisolone) be given to all with thyroid storm. However, doses should be adjusted to ensure that the relative adrenal insufficiency is adequately treated while minimizing the risk of side effects.[19]


Plasmapheresis removes cytokines, antibodies, and thyroid hormones from the plasma.[20] It is usually reserved for severe refractory cases of thyroid storm as a bridge to surgery.[21]

See also


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 1.17 1.18 1.19 1.20 Feingold, KR; Anawalt, B; Blackman, MR; Boyce, A; Chrousos, G; Corpas, E; de Herder, WW; Dhatariya, K; Dungan, K; Hofland, J; Kalra, S; Kaltsas, G; Kapoor, N; Koch, C; Kopp, P; Korbonits, M; Kovacs, CS; Kuohung, W; Laferrère, B; Levy, M; McGee, EA; McLachlan, R; New, M; Purnell, J; Sahay, R; Shah, AS; Singer, F; Sperling, MA; Stratakis, CA; Trence, DL; Wilson, DP; De Groot, LJ; Bartalena, L; Feingold, KR (2022). "Thyroid Storm". PMID 25905165. Archived from the original on 24 May 2022. Retrieved 27 May 2023. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Pokhrel, Binod; Aiman, Wajeeha; Bhusal, Kamal (2023). "Thyroid Storm". Thyroid Storm. StatPearls Publishing. Archived from the original on 29 January 2023. Retrieved 28 May 2023.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Bahn, RS; Burch, HB; Cooper, DS; Garber, JR; Greenlee, MC; Klein, I; Laurberg, P; McDougall, IR; Montori, VM; Rivkees, SA; Ross, DS; Sosa, JA; Stan, MN; American Thyroid, Association; American Association of Clinical, Endocrinologists (June 2011). "Hyperthyroidism and other causes of thyrotoxicosis: management guidelines of the American Thyroid Association and American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists". Thyroid. 21 (6): 593–646. doi:10.1089/thy.2010.0417. PMID 21510801.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 4.8 4.9 Chiha, Maguy; Samarasinghe, Shanika; Kabaker, Adam S. (2013-08-05). "Thyroid Storm: an updated review". Journal of Intensive Care Medicine. 30 (3): 131–140. doi:10.1177/0885066613498053. PMID 23920160. S2CID 21369274.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Gardner DG (2017). "Endocrine Emergencies". In Gardner DG, Shoback D (eds.). Greenspan's Basic and Clinical Endocrinology (10 ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill. Archived from the original on 2023-01-27. Retrieved 2023-05-22.
  6. "Thyroid Storm Clinical Presentation: History, Physical Examination, Complications". Archived from the original on 2021-01-27. Retrieved 2023-05-22.
  7. Paulson JM, Hollenberg AN (2017). "Thyroid Emergencies". In McKean SC, Ross JJ, Dressler DD, Scheurer DB (eds.). Principles and Practice of Hospital Medicine (2 ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 978-0-07-184313-3.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Dietrich, JW (September 2012). "Thyreotoxische Krise [Thyroid storm]". Medizinische Klinik, Intensivmedizin und Notfallmedizin. 107 (6): 448–53. doi:10.1007/s00063-012-0113-2. PMID 22878518. S2CID 31285541.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Dietrich, J. (15 June 2016). "Thyreotoxische Krise und Myxödemkoma". Der Nuklearmediziner. 39 (2): 124–131. doi:10.1055/s-0042-105786.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 Chiha M; Samara S; Kabaker A (March 2015). "Thyroid Storm: An Updated Review". Journal of Intensive Care Medicine. 30 (3): 131–140. doi:10.1177/0885066613498053. PMID 23920160. S2CID 21369274.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  11. Holt, Elizabeth H.; Peery, Harry E. (28 July 2010). Basic Medical Endocrinology (4th ed.). pp. 52–53. ISBN 9780080920559. Archived from the original on 2 July 2023. Retrieved 22 May 2023.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Chatzitomaris, Apostolos; Hoermann, Rudolf; Midgley, John E.; Hering, Steffen; Urban, Aline; Dietrich, Barbara; Abood, Assjana; Klein, Harald H.; Dietrich, Johannes W. (20 July 2017). "Thyroid Allostasis–Adaptive Responses of Thyrotropic Feedback Control to Conditions of Strain, Stress, and Developmental Programming". Frontiers in Endocrinology. 8: 163. doi:10.3389/fendo.2017.00163. PMC 5517413. PMID 28775711.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Klubo-Gwiezdzinska, Joanna; Wartofsky, Leonard (March 2012). "Thyroid emergencies". The Medical Clinics of North America. 96 (2): 385–403. doi:10.1016/j.mcna.2012.01.015. ISSN 1557-9859. PMID 22443982.
  14. Burch, H. B.; Wartofsky, L. (June 1993). "Life-threatening thyrotoxicosis. Thyroid storm". Endocrinology and Metabolism Clinics of North America. 22 (2): 263–277. doi:10.1016/S0889-8529(18)30165-8. ISSN 0889-8529. PMID 8325286.
  15. Akamizu, Takashi; Satoh, Tetsurou; Isozaki, Osamu; Suzuki, Atsushi; Wakino, Shu; Iburi, Tadao; Tsuboi, Kumiko; Monden, Tsuyoshi; Kouki, Tsuyoshi (July 2012). "Diagnostic criteria, clinical features, and incidence of thyroid storm based on nationwide surveys". Thyroid. 22 (7): 661–679. doi:10.1089/thy.2011.0334. ISSN 1557-9077. PMC 3387770. PMID 22690898.
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 16.4 Bahn, RS; Burch, HB; Cooper, DS; Garber, JR; Greenlee, MC; Klein, I; Laurberg, P; McDougall, IR; Montori, VM; Rivkees, SA; Ross, DS; Sosa, JA; Stan, MN; American Thyroid, Association; American Association of Clinical, Endocrinologists (June 2011). "Hyperthyroidism and other causes of thyrotoxicosis: management guidelines of the American Thyroid Association and American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists". Thyroid. 21 (6): 593–646. doi:10.1089/thy.2010.0417. PMID 21510801.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
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  18. Bokhari, Syed Faqeer Hussain; Sattar, Huma; Abid, Shaun; Vohra, Rimsha R; Sajid, Samar (2022-09-19). "Cardiovascular Collapse Secondary to Beta-Blocker Administration in a Setting of Coexisting Thyroid Storm and Atrial Fibrillation: A Case Report". Cureus. Cureus, Inc. doi:10.7759/cureus.29321. ISSN 2168-8184.
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 Isozaki, O; Satoh, T; Wakino, S; Suzuki, A; Iburi, T; Tsuboi, K; Kanamoto, N; Otani, H; Furukawa, Y; Teramukai, S; Akamizu, T (June 2016). "Treatment and management of thyroid storm: analysis of the nationwide surveys: The taskforce committee of the Japan Thyroid Association and Japan Endocrine Society for the establishment of diagnostic criteria and nationwide surveys for thyroid storm". Clinical Endocrinology. 84 (6): 912–8. doi:10.1111/cen.12949. PMID 26387649. S2CID 3050566.
  20. Muller, Clotilde; Perrin, Peggy; Faller, Bernadette; Richter, Sarah; Chantrel, Francois (December 2011). "Role of plasma exchange in the thyroid storm". Therapeutic Apheresis and Dialysis. 15 (6): 522–531. doi:10.1111/j.1744-9987.2011.01003.x. ISSN 1744-9987. PMID 22107688. S2CID 22810551. Archived from the original on 2023-03-31. Retrieved 2023-05-22.
  21. Tieken, Kelsey; Paramasivan, Ameena Madan; Goldner, Whitney; Yuil-Valdes, Ana; Fingeret, Abbey L. (January 2020). "Therapeutic Plasma Exchange as a Bridge to Total Thyroidectomy in Patients with Severe Thyrotoxicosis". AACE Clinical Case Reports. 6 (1): e14–e18. doi:10.4158/ACCR-2019-0132. ISSN 2376-0605. PMC 7279771. PMID 32984516.

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