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Graves Disease

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Graves’ disease is one of the most common diseases that leads to hyperthyroidism. It is usually affects women before they hit the age of 40 years. Let us learn more about Graves’ Disease from the following paragraphs.

What is Graves’ Disease?

Graves’s disease is a condition named after an Irishman, Dr. Robert J. Graves, who described it in 1835. It is also called s Basedow’s disease after a German doctor who described the disease in 1840. Basedow was not aware about Graves describing the a few years earlier. Thus, Americans refer to the disease as Graves’ disease and Europeans generally use the term Basedow’s disease.

Graves’ disease is an autoimmune condition where the immune system attacks the healthy thyroid gland cells. This causes the butterfly-shaped gland to release more hormones such as thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). An autoantibody called the thyroid stimulating immunoglobulin (TSI) is produced in people suffering from Graves’ disease. This autoantibody acts like thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) secreted by the pituitary gland. Thus, causing the thyroid gland to produce more hormones than required.

Graves’ disease can affect anyone, but is more common in women. It has been found about 2% women suffer from Graves’ disease at some point.

Symptoms of Graves’ Disease

The signs and symptoms of Graves’ disease occur due to the direct and indirect effects of excessive hormone secretion. Symptoms that are caused by the autoimmune nature of the disease include:

  • Graves’ ophtalmopathy, where the patient develops inflammation of the eyes, swelling around the eyes and bulging eyes
  • Goiter
  • Pretibial myxedema

Other symptoms of Graves’ disease due to hyperthyroidism includes:

  • Hyperactivity
  • Insomnia
  • Excessive sweating
  • Hair loss
  • Hand tremors
  • Weight loss
  • Heat intolerance
  • Increased appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Palpitations
  • Muscle weakness
  • Warm skin

Causes of Graves’ Disease

A trigger affects certain processes of the immune system. Instead of fighting bacteria, viruses and other foreign material within the system, the immune system starts attacking healthy body cells. In Graves’ disease, the antibodies produced attach themselves to surface of thyroid cells. They stimulate the cells to overproduce thyroid hormones. Thus, leading to hyperthyroidism.

The exact cause of the trigger is not known.It is thought to be a result of a viral or bacterial reaction. In some cases, there is a genetic predisposition for Graves’ disease. Emotional stress can also lead to Graves’ disease.

Diagnosis of Graves’ Disease

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Graves’ disease is suspected based on the symptoms and physical examination of the patients. The diagnostic tests include:

  • Blood tests to determine TSH levels
  • Radioactive iodine uptake
  • Imaging tests such as CT scan, MRI, etc.

Treatment for Graves’ Disease

Treatment for Graves’s disease include the use of antithyroid drugs, radioactive iodine and surgery in some cases. Lubricant eye drops or nonsteroidalantiinflammatory drops are suggested in case of mild eye problems. In severe cases, steroids are prescribed. Double vision is corrected with prism glasses.

Graves’s disease that is left untreated can lead to complications such as:

  • Increases risk of miscarriage
  • Birth defects in pregnancy
  • Increase in heart rare cases
  • Proptotic eyes that prevent eyes from closing completely when trying to sleep
  • Pressure on optic nerve leading to double vision
  • Death, in some cases

If you experience any of the above mentioned signs, speak to your doctor. A blood tests can help detect thyroid problems and subsequent diagnosis of Graves’ disease. The sooner the condition is brought under control, the better is the prognosis.

Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: May 02, 2015