Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disease that leads to a generalized overactivity of the thyroid gland. It is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism and is named after an Irish Physician, Robert J. Graves MD, circa 1830s. He first described this form of hyperthyroidism. It is 7-8 times more common in women than men. Graves’ disease occurs when your own immune system attacks your thyroid gland. This causes an overproduction of its normal hormone, thyroxine. The hormones from the thyroid gland help in regulating growth and in controlling your body’s metabolism. This is only one form of hyperthyroidism, and its resulting high thyroxine levels may affect your moods and appearance.
Graves’ disease can occur in any age group. There are no current medications that can stop your immune system from continuing to attack your thyroid gland. However, for patients who have hyperthyroidism, there are treatments that will lower the thyroid glands thyroxine production and ease symptoms.
Graves’ Disease Symptoms
There are a number of symptoms common to people affected with Graves’ disease. According to Medical News Today, they include:
Irritability and moodiness
Accelerated heartbeat – tachycardia
Irregular heartbeat – arrhythmia
Tremor in fingers and hands
Hair that feels brittle
Weight loss without dieting
Changes in menstrual cycle
Enlarged thyroid gland – goitre
Frequent bowel movements
People with Graves’ disease may have mild signs of Graves’ ophthalmopathy. They include a bulging of the eyes, caused by a swelling of the muscles and tissues behind the eyes. If you smoke and have Graves’ disease, you are more likely to be affected by Graves’ ophthalmopathy. In cases that are severe, your eyelids may not close properly, and they will likely become very dry.
How is Graves’ Disease Diagnosed?
The diagnosis of Graves’ disease. People with the disorder may have a goitre and eye signs, plus any of the multiple symptoms of hyperthyroidism. If, on the other hand, you show only mild symptoms, it may be mistaken for something else. The diagnosis is usually made by thorough clinical assessment, blood tests and medical imaging.
Treatment for Graves’ Disease
There are three main commonly used ways to treat Graves’ disease.
One option is the use of radioactive iodine 131-l. This option is relatively straightforward and usually avoids the need for surgery. There are minimal significant health risks to adults given this treatment. Occasionally patients may require re-treatment. Treating Graves’ disease with iodine 131-l is common in people over the age of 40 and in cases where anti-thyroid drugs don’t properly control the illness, according to ThyroidManager.com.
Anti-thyroid drugs are also used in treating Graves’ disease. By itself, an anti-thyroid drug can treat Graves’ disease without inducing thyroid damage. There may not be a high permanent remission rate, however.
When Is Surgery a Viable Option?
Surgery is an excellent treatment for patients with Graves’ disease. Surgery to remove the thyroid has the advantage of managing the disease quickly. The disadvantages to surgery include the normal risks of thyroid surgery.
If a thyroid surgeon performs the thyroidectomy, this is usually a curative treatment option for people with Graves’ disease. It can also be offered for patients who are not able to be managed with antithyroid drugs. Surgery is also a good option for women who a planning pregnancy – where radioactive iodine therapy is not a recommended treatment option.
The total removal of the thyroid gland is sometimes used for patients where other treatment methods have failed to improve their condition. Surgery is often the chosen treatment in patients who have a large goitre.
If you have questions or concerns about thyroid problems see your local doctor who will arrange for you to see a thyroid surgeon.