A Surprising Cause Behind One Man’s Sudden Paralysis: Graves’ Disease

Feeling sore after an intense workout isn’t out of the ordinary. It’s normal for one’s legs to feel a little wobbly or to hurt a bit while walking around. That’s what one man thought was happening when he was unable to stand due to a sudden weakness in his legs. According to the New York Times, this 26-year-old man was paralyzed in his legs without a distinguishable cause very suddenly. It wasn’t until after two visits from the paramedics and a trip to the emergency room that the reason behind the paralysis was revealed: Graves’ disease.

One Man’s Sudden Paralysis

This man’s story began when he was unable to stand up after a few hours of sitting in front of his computer. He figured his legs were asleep and decided to wait it out. With the help of his brother, he was able to make it to his bed where the two waited for the paralysis to wear off. After two hours, nothing had changed. The man still could not support his own weight or feel his legs, so his brother decided to call an ambulance.

Upon arrival, the E.M.T.s evaluated the situation, asking the man about his medical history and recent activity. They discovered that he had recently made a few lifestyle changes; he drastically altered his diet and was working out every day. The new diet and exercise regimen were working for him, and he proudly told the paramedics that he had lost twenty pounds. In response, they told him that he was most likely dehydrated and needed to refuel. After a few bottles of Gatorade and a little more time, he should feel better and regain feeling in his legs. If not, he could always call again.

With his worries lessened, the man followed the paramedics’ instructions. He drank plenty of fluids and rested, falling asleep in the same position that his brother had to help him into. He continued to follow the directions given to him until the next afternoon when his paralysis began to spread. He couldn’t sit upright, and his arms were feeling weaker. It was then he knew that dehydration was not the cause behind his symptoms. His brother called 911, and a new set of paramedics took him to the hospital.

In the Emergency Room

Dr. Getaw Worku Hassen was working in the emergency room when the man was brought in. He noted that the man had never experienced anything like this before, along with his high blood pressure and rapid heart rate. On the other hand, the man’s nervous system seemed to be functioning normally otherwise, and his reflexes and sensations were working as well.

Blood work revealed that the man’s potassium levels were extremely low, sitting at a dangerous level. This electrolyte is necessary to every cell in the body, and Dr. Hassen knew he had to elevate its levels immediately. The man was given potassium by mouth and through IV before being moved to the ICU.

Fortunately, the patient reported his strength returning as his potassium levels returned to normal. By the morning, he was able to stand, and he was walking that afternoon. His doctors discharged him with a week’s worth of potassium pills and instructions to stay hydrated and follow up with his general physician.

Following Up

Even though the patient had been discharged, Dr. Hassen was still confused as to what caused his potassium levels to fall so low. He looked into the man’s records from his stay in the hospital and found that while treatment with potassium lessened most of his symptoms, his heart rate remained high. Armed with this information, Dr. Hassen turned to the internet for more information.

He found another case with striking resemblance, and this case came with a diagnosis: hyrotoxic periodic paralysis. This muscle weakness occurs when there is an excess of the thyroid hormone. To see if his patient was affected by the same thing, he called the lab and asked them to test the samples they had for thyroid hormone.

The lab reported that the man’s thyroid hormone levels were extremely high, prompting Dr. Hassen to reach out. After multiple missed calls, the man picked up the phone and learned more about what was happening with his body. Dr. Hassen suggested an endocrinologist nearby, and after a visit, the man was diagnosed with Graves’ disease.

Looking Forward

That diagnosis was about four years ago. Now, the man manages his condition with medication and left his intense diet and exercise regimen behind. Instead, he watches what he eats and exercises regularly to simply stay in shape. If he’s feeling weak, he eats a banana or avocado to replace some potassium.

About Graves’ Disease

Graves’ disease is an autoimmune condition that occurs when the thyroid is overactive. The immune system mistakenly attacks the thyroid, causing it to produce an excess of thyroid hormone. This causes symptoms like heat intolerance, goiter, fast heartbeat, muscle weakness, fatigue, weight loss, sleep issues, bulging eyeballs, diarrhea, nervousness, irritability, trembling hands, retracted eyelids, swollen eyes, and double vision. If left untreated, Graves’ disease can lead to damage to the heart, bones, and muscles. Medical professionals believe that an environmental trigger sets these symptoms off in those who are genetically predisposed. While the exact cause is unknown, doctors have set three standard treatment options: radioiodine therapy, medications (beta-blockers and antithyroid medications), and thyroid surgery. To learn more about this condition, click here.

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