Graves' disease is the leading cause of hyperthyroidism, and although anyone can develop this condition, more women than men are diagnosed with it. It's an autoimmune disease that causes your metabolism to speed up, and this triggers your immune system to produce antibodies that cause your pituitary gland to release too much of the hormone that stimulates your thyroid. An over-stimulated thyroid can leave you with a range of serious health concerns, such as heart failure and osteoporosis if it's left untreated. Here's an overview of the causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment approach for Graves' disease:
Causes And Symptoms
It's not fully understood why some people develop Graves' disease, but both environmental and genetic factors are thought to play a role. You're more susceptible to developing the condition if you have a relative with Graves' disease, and those who smoke are also considered to be at a greater risk.
Symptoms of Graves' disease include irritability, fatigue, muscle weakness and a rapid heartbeat. You may also experience gastric upset and unexplained weight loss. This condition can also lead to you developing ophthalmopathy, which causes eye irritation and reduces your vision. Those affected by ophthalmopathy tend to have bulging eyes due to swelling in the eye socket, and this can lead to optical nerve damage.
Diagnosis And Treatment Approach
Your GP will diagnose Graves' disease by taking details of your symptoms and taking a blood sample to test your thyroid hormone levels. Your blood can also be analysed for the presence of antibodies typically found in those with the condition.
Treatment for Graves' disease aims to either block the main function of the thyroid function or lower your thyroid hormone levels. Radioactive iodine is often prescribed, and this works by delivering low doses of radiation to the thyroid gland to bring thyroid hormone production levels down to a normal rate. Beta-blockers can also be prescribed to control some of your symptoms, such as normalising your heart rate. In some cases, you may be referred by your primary care doctor to an endocrinologist for surgery to remove your thyroid gland. This will resolve your symptoms, but as your body needs some thyroid hormone, you will likely have to take a controlled dose of synthetic thyroid hormone for the rest of your life.
If you're experiencing any of the symptoms associated with Graves' disease, schedule an appointment with your GP as soon as possible. Some medical centres will test your blood on the same day as your GP appointment and results are available within a few days. To learn more, contact your local medical centre.