What is Graves’ Disease?
Graves’ disease is the disorder most commonly related to hyperthyroidism – an overproduction of thyroid hormones- and is the result of an uncontrolled autoimmune response that attacks the thyroid. Graves’ disease usually affects young women and might cause severe consequences in your body metabolism.
Graves’ Disease Signs and Symptoms
Since the clinical expression of Grave’s disease is hyperthyroidism, you might present the typical symptoms related to this condition, including:
- Unintentional and unexplained weight loss
- Increased heart rate
- Anxiety and irritability
- Fine tremor in the hands
- Irregular menstrual cycles
- Easily sweating
- Muscle fatigue
- An enlarged thyroid (Goiter)
- Exophthalmos, a specific eyes condition -also known as “Grave’s Ophthalmopathy”- in which the eyes protrude outside the orbits, giving you a “surprised” look
- Thickness and redness of the feet and legs, a particular condition known as “Graves’ dermopathy”
Graves’ Disease Causes
The main cause of Graves’ disease remains unknown. However, experts have established that after some stimulus -that are not yet well understood- the immune system creates specific antibodies to some of the thyroid cells, which abnormally stimulates them and increase the production of thyroid hormones and its overexpression in the bloodstream (hyperthyroidism).
There are some risk factors related to Graves’ disease:
- Female gender
- Age under 40
- Graves’ disease family history
- Another autoimmune disorder personal history
Graves’ Disease Diagnosis
The diagnosis of Graves’ disease is based on your symptoms and some other tests that will confirm the clinical suspicion. Those include:
- Blood test. Your blood levels of TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone), which is the hormone produced in your brain that stimulated the thyroid, and thyroid hormones (triiodothyronine or T3 and thyroxine or T4), will be determined. If your levels of TSH are unusually low and T4 or T3 levels are too high, you might have Graves’ disease.
- Thyroid ultrasound. In order to check the thyroid enlargement.
- Radioiodine uptake test and confirm the thyroid radioactive iodine collection.
Graves’ Disease Treatment
Your endocrinologist who is trained for many years in this particular field has a lost experience of managing such conditions. There are multiple options to treat Graves’ disease and they are centered on inhibiting the excess production of thyroid hormones and its effects on your body. Selecting the right treatment for you depends on your age, medical condition and the severity of your symptoms. Some of the options include:
- Anti-thyroid drugs. These drugs block the excessive thyroid hormone production.
- Beta-blockers. Usually, these drugs are used to treat high blood pressure, but they can also ease the symptoms of hyperthyroidism, like tremor, rapid heart rate, and anxiety.
- Radioactive iodine. This treatment option causes your thyroid gland to shrink, because of its radioactive effects, which gradually decrease the hormone levels.
In case the above treatments are not working or if you can’t tolerate them, your endocrinologist will suggest a thyroidectomy, a procedure that involves the total or partial removal of your thyroid. This will solve hyperthyroidism but will cause the opposite state, hypothyroidism, due to the absences of the thyroid. This is why total thyroidectomy involves a lifelong supplementary treatment with a synthetic thyroid hormone.
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