Are You One of the Many at Risk of Graves' Disease?

Graves’ disease is one which affects a person’s thyroid and hormones. Hyperthyroidism is when the thyroid produces too many hormones. For people with Graves’ disease, overproduction of hormones becomes a way of life. People who suffer from hypothyroidism get less. In many ways, Hashimoto’s disease is the opposite of Graves’s disease and produces less thyroid hormone. However, there are very rare cases of Graves’ disease hypothyroidism as well. 

Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disease. Instead of developing antibodies to fight disease, Graves’ disease instead creates a specific antibody. This one takes over for the pituitary gland, which is normally responsible for regulating the release of thyroid created hormones. Instead, this antibody continues to release excess amounts of hormones. If you’re interested in learning more about Graves’ disease, keep reading this article! 

Risk Factors of Graves’ Disease

There are many ways in which you can be more likely to get Graves’ disease. It’s important to note that even if you don’t have any of the major risk factors, you can still get Graves’ disease. The first first factor is smoking. Smoking affects the immune system and increases the chance Graves’ disease will come into play. People who smoke have a higher risk of also getting Graves’ ophthalmopathy, which affects the eyes as well! Women are more likely to get Graves’ disease than men are. This is especially true for people with a family history of Graves’ disease. Typically Graves’ disease is more likely to happen to people who are under the age of 40 or who are undergoing periods of immense physical or emotional stress in their life. There are also other diseases which can act to increase risk. Specifically, other autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and type 1 diabetes come with an increased risk. 

Symptoms of Graves’ Disease

Thyroid hormones are responsible for helping a lot of the body’s processes function. Altering them means there are a lot of areas that can feel symptoms occur. Some of the most common symptoms include: 

  • Feeling a tremor in hands or fingers
  • Suffering from irritability or anxiety
  • Unexpected weight loss
  • Suffering from a goiter (enlarged thyroid gland)
  • Extra sweating/moist skin and a sensitivity to heat
  • Menstrual cycle changes
  • Suffering from erectile dysfunction or a reduced libido
  • Fatigue
  • Needing to perform frequent bowel movements
  • Suffering from a rapid heartbeat or heart palpitations

30% of people who have Graves’ disease also get a condition called Graves’ ophthalmopathy. With this condition, the tissues and muscles by the eyes become inflamed. Eye related symptoms from Graves’ ophthalmopathy include: 

  • Eyes Feel Gritty
  • Feeling Pain or Pressure In the Eyes
  • Retracted or Puffy Eyelids
  • Exophthalmos (Bulging Eyes)
  • Inflamed or Red eyes
  • Sensitivity to Light
  • Seeing Double
  • Partial or Full Vision Loss

Treating Graves’ Disease

So unsurprisingly, since Graves’ disease creates an excess of hormone from the thyroid gland, treating it is centered around trying to reduce that excess production. The first type of therapy is radioactive iodine therapy. The thyroid gland uses iodine to create hormones. When it uses the radioactive iodine, this damages the cells in the thyroid. In turn, the thyroid decreases in size and creates less hormones. This takes place over a time period of several weeks and months. It’s easy for this treatment to compromise overall thyroid hormone development, so additional treatment could be needed later to make sure that people reach normal thyroid hormone levels eventually. 

There are medications which specifically target the thyroid and the ability for thyroid to use iodine to create hormones. The downside to these medications is that they can increase the chances of liver disease. They can also be used alongside radioactive iodine therapy. 

When it comes to additional treatment options, surgery to remove the thyroid can be an option. There are also medications that block the ways that hormones affect the body. Lifestyle changes can also be effective. Eating well and exercise can really help. Reduction of stress can help as well.

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