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Graves' disease
Posted on Jul 07, 2015
Graves’ disease is a kind of autoimmune problem in which the thyroid gland produces large amount of thyroid hormone leading to a condition called hyperthyroidism. Although there are many reasons behind hyperthyroidism, but Graves’ disease is the prime one.

Autoimmune problems are of different types and develop when your immune system attacks healthy tissues. The reason behind this attack is still unknown. Researchers blame the genes as Graves’ disease tend to run in families. The disease is more likely to affect women than men.

In Graves’ disease, your immune system creates antibodies that prompt the thyroid gland to produce more than required thyroid hormone. These antibodies are known as thyroid-stimulating immunoglobulins (TSIs). The TSIs bind to thyroid cell receptors and then trigger the thyroid into making excessive thyroid hormone, leading to hyperthyroidism.

Causes of Graves' disease

Graves' disease is the result of malfunction in the body's disease-fighting immune system, though the precise reason as to why this happens is unknown.

A normal functioning immune system responds with antibodies to target a specific virus, bacterium or other foreign substance. In Graves' disease, the body unknowingly produces an antibody to one part of the cells in the thyroid gland, a hormone-producing gland in the neck.

Generally, pituitary gland is responsible for the release of a hormone that regulates the thyroid function. Thyrotropin receptor antibody is involved in Graves' disease which tends to override the normal regulation of the thyroid, causing an overproduction of thyroid hormones.

Common signs and symptoms of Graves' disease

The early signs of Graves’ disease may be confusing and pose a challenge for the endocrinologist in diagnoses. Some of the common symptoms include:
  • Anxiety and irritability
  • A fine tremor of your hands or fingers
  • Heat sensitivity and an increase in perspiration or warm, moist skin
  • Weight loss, despite normal eating habits
  • Enlargement of your thyroid gland (goiter)
  • Change in menstrual cycles
  • Erectile dysfunction or reduced libido
  • Frequent bowel movements
  • Bulging eyes (Graves' ophthalmopathy)
  • Thick, red skin usually on the shins or tops of the feet
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat

Some people with Graves' disease show symptoms of a condition known as Graves' ophthalmopathy. In this condition, swelling and other immune system events affect muscles and other tissues around your eyes which lead to following symptoms:

Available treatments for Graves' disease

The objective of the treatment is to manage over-production of thyroid hormones. With appropriate treatment, you can reduce the effect of Graves' disease. Your endocrinologist will suggest the best treatment for Graves’ disease:
  • Anti-thyroid Medications: These drugs help control the thyroid from producing hormones. Methimazole and propylthiouracil are some of the medicines that interfere with the thyroid gland’s ability to produce hormones. Hyperthyroidism may recur, if the drugs are stopped. Possible side effects of these medications include skin rash, itching, and hives.
  • Radioactive Iodine: Radioactive iodine works by destroying thyroid tissue cells, thereby reducing your thyroid hormone levels. You can take radioactive iodine orally. Side effects may include tenderness in the neck and a temporary increase in thyroid hormones. This therapy is not recommended for treating pregnant or nursing women.
  • Surgery: Some people cannot tolerate anti-thyroid medication or radioactive iodine and sometimes, these treatments do not guarantee success. In that case, surgical removal of your thyroid (thyroidectomy or subtotal thyroidectomy) is an option for the treatment of Graves' disease. Post surgery, you’ll need treatment to supply your body with normal amounts of thyroid hormones.
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