What is Graves’ disease?
Graves’ disease is an autoimmune condition that results in an overactive thyroid. The immune system fights the thyroid, leading to an overproduction of thyroid hormone. If untreated, damage can occur to the heart, bones, and muscles. Issues may arise with fertility and the menstrual cycle, as with the eyes and skin.
Graves’ disease affects one of every 200 people in the United States, and it is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism. Those between the ages of 30 and 50 are at the highest risk of developing this condition, and females have a much higher chance of being affected as well.
What are the symptoms of Graves’ disease?
- Fast, irregular heartbeat
- Diarrhea or frequent bowel movements
- Heat intolerance
- Muscle weakness
- Trembling hands
- Issues with sleeping
- Weight loss
- Retracted eyelids
- Bulging eyes
- Double vision
- Swelling around the eyes
A less common symptom of this disease is Graves’ dermopathy, which is when the skin on the sides of the shins thickens and turns red.
What causes Graves’ disease?
The exact cause of this condition is unknown, but experts suspect that it is a combination of genetics and environmental factors. They believe that a gene may predispose someone to Graves’ disease, and then an environmental trigger causes the onset of symptoms.
Medical professionals do know that the immune system produces thyroid-stimulating immunoglobulin, which is an antibody that sticks to the cells of the thyroid. It stimulates the thyroid and results in the overproduction of the thyroid hormone.
How is Graves’ disease diagnosed?
Doctors will start with a physical exam, in which they will look for the characteristic symptoms. They will also look at patient and family history. A blood test is typically sufficient to confirm this diagnosis, but at times further tests are needed. These tests include a thyroid scan or a radioactive iodine uptake test.
What are the treatments for Graves’ disease?
Three treatment options exist for those with Graves’ disease: medicine, radioiodine therapy, and thyroid surgery. Age and pregnancy both influence the best course of treatment.
Possible medications include beta blockers and antithyroid medications. These medications are becoming a more popular form of treatment, closely following radioiodine therapy.