Graves disease

Graves’ disease is an immune system disorder that results in over production of thyroid hormones or hyperthyroidism.  It is considered as the leading cause for the disease.

The regulation of various body systems is essentially controlled by the thyroid hormones and hence the symptoms of Graves’ disease also vary and affect the overall body health. It is not fatal and mostly affects young women of below 40. The aim of treatment is to reduce the thyroid levels and minimize the severity of the associated systems.

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Symptoms of Graves’ disease

Some of the signs and symptoms of Graves’ disease are shown as under:

  • Anxiety
  • Excessive tiredness or fatigue
  • Sleep abnormalities
  • Irregular or rapid heartbeat
  • Irritability
  • Hands or fingers may develop fine tremor
  • Inexplicable loss of weight
  • Menstrual cycle changes
  • Increased sensitivity to heat
  • Increased perspiration leading to moist and warm skin
  • Diarrhea or frequent movements of the bowel
  • Thyroid gland enlargement
  • Diminished libido or erectile dysfunction

Graves’ dermopathy: This condition is a rare form of Graves’ disease and results in increased thickness and redness of the skin, generally over the feet or on the shins.

Graves’ ophthalmopathy: Almost fifty percent of the patients affected by Graves’ disease experience symptoms associated with another disorder known as Graves’ ophthalmopathy. In this condition, the tissues and muscles near the eyes are affected by inflammation and some immune system dysfunctions. It results in the following symptoms:

  • Bulging eyes
  • Puffy eyelids
  • Irritating dry eyes
  • Excessive tearing of eyes
  • Double vision
  • Sensations of grittiness in eyes
  • Diminished or blurred vision (rare)
  • Eye pain or pressure
  • Inflamed or reddened eyes
  • Restricted eye movements, leading to fixed stare
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Corneal ulcers (Rare)

There are many complications that arise from Graves’ disease such as problems during pregnancy, thyroid storms, weakening of bones and cardiac abnormalities

Causes of Graves’ disease

  • The immune system produces many antibodies to counter the effects of various bacteria, germs and microorganisms and protect the health.  A malfunction of body’s immune system leads to Graves’ disease. The immune system in people with Graves’ disease produces an antibody called thyrotropin receptor antibody or TRAb which counters the effect of a protein found in cells of thyroid gland. The exact reasons for the dysfunction of the immune system are unknown.
  • The pituitary gland located in brain coordinates and regulates the functions of thyroid glands. The antibody produced by the immune system in people with Graves’ disease patients minimizes the regulatory function of pituitary gland. Overriding of the pituitary gland’s actions by the antibody, results in excess production of thyroid hormones which eventually causes hyperthyroidism.
  • The thyroid hormones control many critical bodily functions such as muscle strength, the metabolic processes, body temperature, menstrual cycles and the cardiac and nervous system. Hence, Graves’ disease results in general decline in patients’ health and quality of life.
  • Graves’ ophthalmopathy causes: The exact cause is unknown, but as per the studies conducted, the TRAb antibody gets attracted to tissues that surround the eyes. This triggers immune system events and inflammation that cause the eventual symptoms of the condition.

Anyone can get affected by Graves’ disease, but certain risk factors that increase the vulnerability for the condition are as follows:

  • A family history of Graves’ disease
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Being a female gender
  • The presence of other autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis or severe diabetes
  • An age of 40 or below
  • Recent childbirth or pregnancy
  • Increased levels of physical or emotional stress

Treatment of Graves’ disease

The primary aim of treatment for Graves’ disease is to limit the production of thyroid hormones and block the effects of excessive thyroid hormones.

A few treatment options are discussed below:

  • Radioactive iodine therapy: This therapy involves the consumption of oral radioactive iodine. The thyroid gland uses iodine to manufacture hormones and thus radioactive iodine results in destruction of excess cells in thyroid gland. The therapy has some side effects like, risk to Graves’ ophthalmopathy, temporary reduction in testosterone levels, short-term increase in thyroid hormones and neck tenderness. Since the therapy results in decreased production of thyroid hormones, one may require thyroid replacement therapy in future to normalize hormone levels.
  • Anti-thyroid medications: These medications affect the ability of thyroid gland to use iodine that produces hormones. The patients need to consume the drugs on long-term basis for effective results. They can also be taken to supplement radioactive iodine therapy. Some side effects include rashes, liver abnormalities and joint pains.
  • Beta blockers: These may be used to block the effects of increased levels of thyroid hormones to provide relief for muscle weakness, anxiety, cardiac conditions, etc.
  • Surgery: Surgery involves removal of thyroid gland. Many risks exist in surgical removal of the thyroid and must be done only as last option. Also, surgery would lead to lifetime thyroid replacement therapy.
  • Graves’ ophthalmopathy can be treated by medications like corticosteroids, orbital radiotherapy or eye surgery.

Graves disease pictures

Here are pictures of people having Graves disease including famous singer Missy Elliott who was diagnosed with the disease.

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