What is Grave's Disease?
Grave's Disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes hyperthyroidism, a condition where your thyroid gland overproduces thyroid hormones. The additional thyroid hormones can negatively affect important aspects of your body and health including regulation of body temperature, your central nervous system, brain development. Left untreated, Grave's Disease can also lead to uncontrolled emotions, weight loss, and fatigue.
Causes of Grave's Disease
The exact cause of Grave's Disease is still unknown to scientists and doctors. However, they do know that it is a result of a malfunction in your body's immune system. A normal, properly functioning immune system will make proteins, or antibodies, to fight against specific bacteria and viruses. When you are affected by Grave's Disease, the immune system malfunctions, producing antibodies referred to as thyroid-stimulating immunoglobulins that attempt to fight the thyroids health cells.
Grave's Disease generally occurs in people 40 and younger, and women are approximately eight times more likely to develop the disorder. If you have other autoimmune disorders such as Crohn's disease, Rheumatoid arthritis, or diabetes mellitus, you are at additional risk of developing Grave's Disease. Additionally, you are more likely to be affected by Grave's Disease if someone else in your family has been affected by the condition.
Symptoms and Diagnosis of Grave's Disease
Symptoms of Grave's Disease commonly include the following:
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
- Unexplained weight loss
- Shaking hands
- Fatigue, emotional or physical
- Sleeping difficulty
- Anxiety, irritability, nervousness, or depression
- Low tolerance to high temperatures or heat
- Increased sweating
- Irritable bowels or diarrhea
- Changing menstrual cycles in women
- Erectile dysfunction in men
- Diminished or loss of libido
- Skin getting thicker and/or redder, typically on or around the shins
- Eyesight difficulties, including pain, inflammation, bulging, sensitivity to light, or loss of vision
Diagnosis of Grave's Disease will typically involve a physical exam, a blood sample, thyroid tests, imaging tests (x-rays or an MRI), and ultrasounds.
Treatments for Grave's Disease
Grave's Disease is typically treated in one or more of the following ways:
- Thyroid surgery
- Anti-thyroid medication
- Radioactive iodine therapy
Thyroid surgery is a less common method of treating Grave's Disease and is generally only undertaken when other options have been unsuccessful. If the thyroid is removed during surgery, you will need to undergo thyroid hormone replacement therapy regularly.
Anti-thyroid medications may be prescribed by your doctor in order to reduce your symptoms effects. These medications may include propylthiouracil, methimazole, or beta-blockers.
Radioactive iodine therapy is the most common treatment method for Grave's Disease. It consists of swallowing pills containing doses of radioactive iodine-131, which help to stop the overproduction of thyroid hormones by destroying the cells producing the hormones.