All About Graves Disease
Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disorder involving the thyroid gland that affects about two percent of women between the ages of 20 and 40 years. The thyroid is a small structure located on the neck that is responsible for maintaining metabolism of the body by taking in iodine. During illness with an autoimmune disease, a person’s body attacks its own cells and tissues. Since Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disorder, the body produces antibodies that attack the hormones that the thyroid makes. This then leads the thyroid to over-produce its hormones, or hyperthyroidism, which affects many parts of the body. Graves’ disease was first discovered by Robert Graves in 1835, who linked a pattern between a patient’s goiter with other physical manifestations.
Facts About Graves’ Disease
- Graves’ disease is the leading cause of hyperthyroidism.
- It is also referred to as Toxic Diffuse Goiter.
- Graves’ disease affects women 10 times more commonly than men.
- It impacts multiple parts of the body, including weight control and infertility.
- The disease can also cause a condition called Graves’ opthalmopathy, an illness that includes swelling around the eyes and protrusion from their sockets.
- Irregular heart beat
- Anxiety and shakiness
- Weight loss
- A goiter, or protuberance of the thyroid on the neck
- Change in menstrual cycle or infertility when trying to conceive
- Dry, brittle hair
Who Develops Graves’ Disease?
Graves’ disease is more commonly found in women than in men. It affects mostly women between the ages of 20 and 40 years. There are different reasons behind the development of Graves’ disease. It can be diagnosed because of genetic factors, including history of thyroid disease in the family. Some research has been done stating that Graves’ disease is precipitated by stressful events or is triggered by an infection. There is no specific cause that has been identified as the sole source of Graves’ disease.
How is Graves Disease Treated?
There are various treatments for Graves’ disease. Treatment focuses on the best way to manage symptoms. A common medication to control the thyroid is called methimazole, which regulates the amount of hormone that the thyroid produces. The necessity of this medication is determined and prescribed by a doctor. Some doctors will administer radioactive iodine as a treatment. Since the thyroid uses iodine in the body, a dose of radioactive iodine is absorbed by the thyroid, which reduces excess thyroid cells. This treatment frequently occurs when the patient has a goiter, or enlargement of the thyroid gland in addition to Graves’ disease. Patients can also have surgery to remove the dysfunctional thyroid gland entirely. Their hormones and metabolism will then be regulated by thyroid replacement medication that must be taken for life.
Some people choose to treat hyperthyroidism and Graves’ disease with different methods. There are alternative treatments available for Graves’ disease that reduce symptoms. Herbal supplements such as motherwort has been used for heart palpitations and bugleweed is known to reduce some hormone levels. The use of vitamin E is also researched for treatment of symptoms. Changes in diet to add foods that have high iodine content, such as seafood, broccoli, and adding salt are also recommended. As with any alternative treatment, a patient’s doctor must be made aware of what supplements are being taken.
Complications of Graves’ Disease
Graves’ disease is normally not life threatening, but it can cause severe illness for many people if not managed well. Graves’ disease can cause problems with the heart if the irregular heartbeat associated with the disorder is not managed. Osteoporosis can develop due to the body’s inability to take calcium into the bones because of the thyroid. A more rare occurrence, thyroid storm, is a sudden incident where the body’s vital signs increase; causing high blood pressure, rapid heart rate, sweating, or fever. This occurs when thyroid hormones reach toxic levels in the body.
Additional Information and Resources
- United States Department of Health and Human Services: Questions and answers about Graves’ disease.
- National Endocrine and Metabolic Diseases Information Service: Facts about Graves’ disease from the National Institute of Health.
- Graves’ Disease Foundation: Resource page for patients and families.
- American Thyroid Association: Informative pamphlet about Graves’ disease.
- The Mayo Clinic: Overview of Graves’ disease.