Understanding Grave’s Disease And What To Do

Understanding Grave's Disease And What To Do

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Understanding Grave’s Disease And What To Do

Grave’s Disease is an autoimmune disease. In Grave’s disease the immune system creates antibodies that stimulate the thyroid gland. This causes the gland to enlarge and produce excessive amounts of thyroid hormones.

Grave’s disease is a condition in which the thyroid gland produces too much hormone (hyperthyroidism). The release of excessive thyroid hormone speeds up the body’s metabolism and some of its processes, such as heart rate. This can have a significant impact on health and general well being.

Although many different conditions can trigger an overactive thyroid, the most common cause is Grave’s disease. Early diagnosis and treatment is essential as this condition can have a wide ranging and significant influence on the body. For some people symptoms can be mild. For the majority of sufferers it escalates and causes havoc in many areas of their lives.

Grave’s disease can occur at any age however it is most common in women aged in their twenties or thirties. It is estimated that around five to ten times more women are diagnosed than men.

Symptoms Of Grave’s Hyperthyroidism

Sufferers of Grave’s disease may have some of the following symptoms:

” Anxiety and irritability
” Unexplained weight loss
” Muscle weakness
” Slight hand tremors
” Rapid and irregular heart beat
” Goiter(enlarged thyroid gland)
” Excessive sweating
” Changes to a woman’s menstrual cycle
” Breast enlargement in men is also common

Another symptom is the appearance of reddish, thickened skin on the feet and lower legs. This skin condition is a rare occurrence, usually painless and not considered serious.

Thyroid Eye Disease

Grave’s disease can also result in ophthalmopathy, or thyroid eye disease. It is believed that the thyroid gland and the eye’s muscles may share a common antigen, that is recognized by the antibodies attacking the thyroid.

Grave’s ophthalmopathy can occur before, or at the same time as other symptoms of hyperthyroidism. 25% of Grave’s disease patients have symptoms of this eye disease.

Symptoms of Grave’s ophthalmopathy include:

Pressure or pain in the eyes
Inflammation of the tissue and muscles around the eyes
Retracted eye lids
Double vision
Gritty sensation in the eyes
Light sensitivity

Treatment Of Grave’s Disease

The goal in the treatment of Grave’s disease is to control the excessive activity of the thyroid gland. Treatment options include anti-thyroid medication to inhibit production of hormones by the thyroid gland.

Medication to keep the thyroid gland from making too much hormone is generally used for one or two years. For some people, thyroid function returns to normal when these drugs are discontinued. However for most the overactive thyroid returns.

Chemical Therapy

The thyroid gland uses iodine to produce thyroid hormone. Radioiodine therapy is a treatment where oral medication that contains radioactive iodine is taken to destroy thyroid cells.

With this treatment the thyroid gland shrinks, produces less hormones, and symptoms gradually reduce over time. This is a successful treatment that does not harm other parts of the body or cause birth defects.

Radioiodine therapy treatment is not used for pregnant or breastfeeding women. Some people who are allergic to antithyroid medication, and a small percentage of patients resistant to radioiodine treatment, may require an operation.

Surgical Option

Although not the most common option, when appropriate a total thyroidectomy is the only option that gives immediate cure to hyperthyroidism. Removal of the thyroid gland takes several hours under general anesthetic.

Patients experience little discomfort and recovery is swift. They can and function normally, including eating and talking, almost straight away. After surgery lifetime medication will be needed to provide normal amounts of thyroid hormone to the body.

Treating Ophthalmopathy

Mild eye symptoms of Grave’s ophthalmopathy may be managed by using over the counter medication; artificial tears during the day and lubricating gel at night.

Surgery to remove the bone between the eye socket and the sinuses is called orbital decompression. The air space next to the orbit provides the eyes room to move back to their original position. This surgery can be recommended when pressure on the optic nerve threatens the loss of vision.

Although beta blockers do not inhibit the production of thyroid hormones, they do block the effects of hormones on the body. They may have rapid relief for irregular heartbeat, tremors, heat tolerance, sweating and muscle weakness.

Causes Of Grave’s Disease

As with all autoimmune disease, hereditary is believed to be a factor. People with a family member who also has an autoimmune disease appear to be more susceptible to the disease. Stress and infection are also thought to be possible triggers for those predisposed to the disease.

A recent study has found that 30% of women who get Grave’s disease have been pregnant in the twelve months prior to the onset of symptoms. This gives a strong indication that pregnancy may be the trigger for some people.


Understanding Grave's Disease And What To Do
Understanding Grave’s Disease And What To Do

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