Graves’ disease is one of the most common of all thyroid problems. It was first described by Sir Robert Graves in the early 19th century. It causes the thyroid gland to produces excessive hormones, a condition called hyperthyroidism.
Graves’ disease is easy to treat once the disorder has been correctly diagnosed. If left untreated, it can lead to serious complications including death. The symptoms can cause discomfort, but if the patient receives quick medical intervention, Graves’ disease has no long-term adverse health consequences.
Causes of Graves’ Disease
Hormones secreted by the thyroid gland controls the speed at which the body converts food into energy, a process called metabolism. Metabolism is directly linked to the amount of hormones that circulate in the bloodstream. If, for some reason, the thyroid gland secretes an excess of these hormones, the metabolism of the body goes into high gear, resulting in pounding heart, excessive sweating, trembling, and weight loss typically experienced by hyperthyroid people.
The thyroid normally gets its production orders through another chemical called thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), released by the pituitary gland in the brain. However in Graves’ disease, a breakdown in the body’s immune system releases abnormal antibodies that imitate TSH. The thyroid’s hormone factories work tirelessly and exceed their normal proportion because they are stimulated by these false signals to produce.
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It is yet uncertain as to why the immune system begins to produce these unusual antibodies. Graves’ disease is believed to be triggered by genetics and environmental factors. According to studies, if one identical twin contracts Graves’ disease, there is a 20% possibility that the other twin will get it, too. Also, women are more likely to develop the disease than men. And smokers who develop Graves’ disease are more prone to eye problems than nonsmokers with the disease.
Graves’ disease can cause the eyeballs to protrude from their sockets, in form of inflamed and swollen eye muscles and tissues. However, only a small percentage of all Graves’ patients will experience this condition, known as exophthalmos. It isn’t certain whether such eye complications is as a result of Graves’ disease or from a completely separate, yet closely linked, disorder. If you have developed exophthalmos, your eyes may ache and feel dry and irritated. Protruding eyeballs are susceptible to excessive tearing and redness, partially because the eyelids can no longer shelter them effectively from injury.
People rarely develop a skin condition known as pretibial myxedema, which occurs as a lumpy reddish thickening of the skin on the shins. It is usually painless and is not serious. Like exophthalmos this condition does not necessarily begin with the onset of Graves’ nor does it correlate with the severity of the disease.
Symptoms of Graves’ Disease
- Faster heart rate and higher blood pressure
- Development of a goiter (enlargement of the thyroid gland, causing a swelling at the base of the neck).
- increased nervousness
- Weight loss in spite of increased appetite
- Excessive sweating
- Frequent bowel movement
- Increased sensitivity to heat
- More frequent bowel movement
- Muscle weakness and trembling hands
- Bulging eyes
- Reddish, thickened, and lumpy skin
- Change in frequency or total cessation of menstrual periods in women
Call your doctor immediately if you notice any of these symptoms.
Diagnosis of Graves’ Disease
You doctor may use several methods to double check Graves’ disease so as to rule out other disorders, even though it can be diagnosed from the results of one or two tests. Test will be carried on your blood to show if the levels of two hormones — free thyroxine (free T-4) and triiodothyronine (free T-3), which are regulated by the thyroid are higher than normal.
If they are, and if levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) in your blood are abnormally low, you are hyperthyroid, and Graves’ disease is the likely culprit. Blood analysis can also detect the presence of the abnormal antibody associated with Graves’ disease.
To confirm a diagnosis of Graves’ disease, your doctor may conduct a radioactive iodine uptake test, which shows whether large quantities of iodine are collecting in the thyroid. The gland needs iodine to make thyroid hormones, so if it is absorbing unusually large amounts of iodine, it obviously is producing too much hormone.
Treatments for Graves’ Disease
The disorder is rooted in a malfunctioning immune system, but the goal of treatment is to reinstate thyroid hormone levels to their accurate balance and to relieve discomfort. Beta-blockers such as atenolol (Tenormin), propranolol (Inderal), and metoprolol (Lopressor) frequently prescribed to treat heart disease and high blood pressure, are also used by most patients to ease the heart palpitations and muscle tremors that characterize Graves’ disease. Your doctor needs to know if you are asthmatic or have any kind of heart trouble before prescribing Beta blockers. These drugs aren’t a cure, but they are administered to block some of the effects of thyroid hormones.
Home Remedies for Graves’ Disease
- Use eye patches at night if your lids cannot close completely over your eyes. This will prevent eyes from drying out.
- Use over-the-counter or prescription artificial tears to moisten eyes whenever they feel dry.
- If your eyes are red and swollen in the morning, sleep with your head elevated.
- Wear tinted glasses to protect the eyes from bright light, sunlight, and wind.