WHAT IS IT?
Graves’ disease is an immune system disorder that results in the overproduction of thyroid hormones (hyperthyroidism). Although a number of disorders are associated with hyperthyroidism, Graves’ disease is a common cause.
Factors that may increase your risk include having a family history of the disorder and having another autoimmune disorder, such as rheumatoid arthritis or type 1 diabetes. There’s some indication that stressful life events or illness may act as a trigger for the onset of Graves’ disease in people who are genetically susceptible.
Because thyroid hormones affect a number of different body systems, signs, and symptoms associated with Graves’ disease can be wide-ranging and include:
- Anxiety and irritability
- A fine tremor of your hands or fingers
- Heat sensitivity, an increase in perspiration, or warm, moist skin
- Weight loss, despite normal eating habits
- Enlargement of your thyroid gland (goiter)
- Change in the menstrual cycle
- Erectile dysfunction or reduced libido
- Bulging eyes (Graves’ ophthalmopathy)
- Thick, red skin, usually on the shins or tops of the feet (Graves’ dermopathy)
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
Several tests may be performed in making a diagnosis. In one test, you’re given a small amount of radioactive iodine and the rate at which your thyroid gland takes up the iodine is measured. (Iodine is needed to make thyroid hormones.) The goals of treatment are to inhibit the production of thyroid hormones and to block the hormones’ effects on your body.
Radioactive iodine therapy.
It’s the most frequently used treatment. You take radioactive iodine (radioiodine) by mouth. The radioiodine is absorbed by the thyroid cells, gradually destroying overactive cells. This causes your thyroid gland to shrink and symptoms to lessen.
Because the radioiodine causes thyroid activity to decline, you’ll likely need treatment, later on, to supply your body with normal amounts of thyroid hormones.
Because radioiodine therapy may cause or worsen Graves’ ophthalmopathy, it may not be recommended if you already have moderate to severe eye problems.
They interfere with the thyroid’s use of iodine to produce hormones.
They block the effect of thyroid hormones on the body and may provide fairly rapid relief of irregular heartbeats, tremors, anxiety or irritability, heat intolerance, sweating, diarrhea, and muscle weakness.
Surgery to remove all or part of your thyroid gland is a last resort. After the surgery, you’ll need to take supplemental thyroid hormones.
Excerpt From: The Mayo Clinic. “Mayo Clinic A to Z Health Guide”.