Graves' disease is an illness caused by the
body's immune system when it mistakenly attacks the thyroid gland.
The thyroid is a little gland with a big job.
It is located in the front of the neck just below the voice box. Thyroid disorders can cause restlessness,
fatigue, weight gain, weight loss and an array of other symptoms.
Some disorders cause the thyroid
to make less hormones while others increase the thyroid's activity. Graves' disease makes the thyroid overactive, and it
is the leading cause of hyperthyroidism.
Graves' disease is relatively uncommon
less than 1 percent of the population are affected. It occurs eight times more often in women than
in men. Middle-aged women are the usual victims of this disease, but it can also occur in children,
adolescents and the elderly.
Graves' disease symptoms
Like most autoimmune disorders Graves' disease
is not contagious. There seems to be a genetic component involved, although no specific gene has
been identified. Stress seems to be identified with onset, and it is often diagnosed
following a severe viral infection or pregnancy.
Symptoms of Graves' disease may include:
Changes in hair thickness or texture
Enlarged thyroid gland - goiter
Erratic behavior, mood swings, nervousness,
irritability and anxiety
Eye problems such as redness and swelling
and blurred or double vision
Fatigue often with muscle weakness and tremors
Heat intolerance and increased sweating
Increased frequency of stools and diarrhea
Menstrual cycle irregularities
Reduced sex drive
Restless sleep or insomnia and general restlessness
Short attention span - easily distracted
Tachycardia or heart palpitations - rapid
or irregular heart beat
Unexplained weight loss
If you notice any of these symptoms, be sure
to discuss this with your health care provider.
Untreated or improperly treated Graves' disease
may cause weakened heart muscle that can lead to heart failure. Osteoporosis and eye disorders may
also occur. Severe emotional disorders can also result over a longer period if the disease is not properly
treated. If you become pregnant, hyperthyroidism may cause a miscarriage or birth defects.
Diagnosing Graves' disease
Your doctor has many tests to determine if you
have Graves' disease. A physical exam may show an increased heart rate or thyroid enlargement (goiter).
There are blood tests and other laboratory tests that can assist with the diagnosis
Serum TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) is
Serum T3, free T4 are higher than normal
Radioactive iodine uptake is usually high
Orbit CT scan or ultrasound
While there is no known cure for Graves' disease,
there are treatments available to help reduce the symptoms and reduce the amount of thyroid hormone
that is produced to correct the problem.
Treating Graves' disease
Beta-blockers such as propranolol are often
used to treat symptoms of rapid heart rate, sweating, and anxiety until the hyperthyroidism is controlled.
The least invasive and also least effective
way to reduce the amount of hormone the thyroid produces involves taking anti-thyroid drugs which
inhibit production or conversion of the active thyroid hormone. Patients may opt for more effective
treatment with radioactive iodine (I-131) which destroys part or all of the thyroid gland. This
reduces the glands ability to produce thyroid hormone. A third alternative is surgery. In a subtotal
thyroidectomy the surgeon removes most of the thyroid gland which makes it unable to overproduce
These treatments require follow-up with synthetic
thyroid hormone to replace the hormones that your body cannot produce. The levels of hormone need
to be carefully monitored and regulated. The amount of hormone that your body needs may change due
to stress, other hormonal changes such as menopause or with substantial weight gain or loss.
Elsewhere on the Web, find out more about the
condition at sites offering comprehensive expert information and treatment options along with helpful
support from patient forums and discussion boards ...
More about Graves' disease around the Web:
Graves' Disease & Thyroid Foundation of America - Patient centered USA focused site offers information and
resources including a list of support groups by state. Includes causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment,
and related links to more information for patients and health care professionals.
disease fact sheet - This US government sponsored
has clear, concise information on Graves' disease in an easy to use question and answer format.
Plus Medical Encyclopedia - Graves' Disease - Extensive entry from US National Library of
Medicine, National Institutes of Health with information on causes, symptoms and treatment, surgery,
risks & complications, with more on medications in development, pictures & illustrations,
references and related links.
is intended as reference and not as medical advice.
All treatment decisions should be made by medical professionals.