Graves’ Disease – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment Methods

Graves’ disease is the only kind of hyperthyroidism that has inflammation of the eyes, swelling of the tissues around the eyes, and bulging of the eyes. Graves-Basedow disease, also known simply as Graves’ disease. Graves’ disease is the most common form of hyperthyroidism. It occurs when your immune system mistakenly attacks your thyroid gland and causes it to overproduce the hormone called thyroxine. When the thyroid is too active, it makes more thyroid hormones than the body needs. High levels of thyroid hormones can cause side effects such as weight loss, rapid heart rate and nervousness. The thyroid gland is under continuous stimulation by circulating autoantibodies against the thyrotropin receptor, and pituitary thyrotropin secretion is suppressed because of the increased production of thyroid hormones. The ratio of women to men is as high as 7:1. It reaches its peak incidence between the third and forth decades and the reason for the female predominance in this as in all thyroid diseases is unknown. This is an uncommon disease that affects 2 percent of all women at some time in their lives. It is known to be related to an antibody mediated type of auto-immunity, but the trigger for the reaction is unknown. Once the disorder has been correctly diagnosed, it is quite easy to treat.

Graves’ disease is named after the Irish physician who described several cases in the London Medical Journal in 1835. In some cases, Graves’ disease goes into remission or disappears completely after several months or years. Similar antibodies may also attack the tissues in the eye muscles and in the pretibial skin (the skin on the front of the lower leg). There’s also a genetic influence contributing to Graves’ disease and it can run in families. In the case of Graves’ disease, the body sees the thyroid gland as the foreign object and produces antibodies that attack the thyroid gland. This will often (but not in all cases) cause the thyroid gland to become over active. Graves’ eye disease is currently believed to be due to a similar autoimmune reaction. Graves’ disease can have an effect on many parts of the body such as the nervous system, eyes, skin, hair/nails, lungs, digestive system, muscles/bones and reproductive system. Although many patients with Graves’ disease have redness and irritation of the eyes at some time, less than 1% ever develop enough inflammation of the eye tissues to cause serious or permanent trouble. Patients who have severe eye symptoms may benefit from visiting an eye doctor. Graves’ disease is rarely fatal, and people seldom get extremely ill because of it.

Causes of Graves’ disease

The common causes and risk factor’s of Graves’ disease include the following:

An autoantibody (called thyroid stimulating immunoglobulin, TSI) that acts like thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) and that causes the thyroid gland to produce excess thyroid hormone.

Toxic multinodular goiter.

Toxemia of pregnancy.

Iodine excess.

Discontinuation of antithyroid medication.

Excessive thyroid medication given to hypothyroid sufferers.

Symptoms of Graves’ disease

Some sign and symptoms related to Graves’ disease are as follows:

Muscle weakness.

Heat intolerance.

Blurred or double vision.

Nervousness & irritability.

Weight loss.

Increased appetite.

Dislike of hot weather.

Itching.

Weak leg muscles.

Lighter menstrual flow.

Nervousness.

Sweating.

Increased eye tearing.

Infrequent or absent menstrual periods.

Treatment of Graves’ disease

Here is list of the methods for treating Graves’ disease:

Your doctor will prescribe either methimazole (Tapazole) or propylthiouracil (PTU) pills. These drugs act to prevent the thyroid from manufacturing the thyroid hormone.

Anti-thyroid drugs which inhibit production or conversion of the active thyroid hormone.

Surgical removal of most of the thyroid gland is the other alternative for severe cases of Graves’ disease.

Fevers are treated with cooling measures and antipyretics.

Another medication, propranolol, is a beta-blocker that helps relieve the symptoms of Graves’ disease including rapid heart rate, tremor, sweating and anxiety.

Radioactive iodine therapy: This is an alternative if drug treatment fails.

Iodinated contrast agents can also provide effective treatment for hyperthyroidism of any cause.