Graves Disease: Dont Let It Go Untreated – Elaine Moore
If left untreated, Graves’ Disease can lead to mre serious complications, including birth defects in pregnancy, increased risk of a miscarriage and, in extreme cases, death. Graves’ Disease is a type of autoimmune disease in which the immune system overstimulates the thyroid gland, causing hyperthyroidism. Overactivity of the thyroid gland is also sometimes called “diffuse toxic goiter.”
An autoimmune disease occurs when the body’s immune system becomes misdirected and attacks the very organs, cells or tissues that it was designed to protect. About 75% of autoimmune diseases occur in women, most frequently during their childbearing years.
The thyroid gland helps set the rate of metabolism (the rate at which the body uses energy), and when it is overstimulated, it produces more thyroid hormones than the body needs. High levels of thyroid hormones can cause difficult side effects.
Graves’ Disease Symptoms
Graves’ Disease is an extremely rare disease that tends to affect women over the age of 20. The incidence is about 5 in 10,000 people.
Its most common symptoms include insomnia, irritability, weight loss without dieting, heat sensitivity, increased perspiration, fine or brittle hair, muscular weakness, eye changes, lighter menstrual flow, rapid heart beat and hand tremors.
Graves Disease is the only kind of hyperthyroidism that is associated with inflammation of the eyes, swelling of the tissue around the eyes, and protrusion, or bulging, of the eyes.
Some patients will develop lumpy reddish thickening of the skin in front of the shins called pretibial myxedema. This skin condition is usually painless.
The onset of Graves’ Disease can be very gradual or very sudden and its symptoms sometimes are confused with other medical problems. Women can have Graves Disease and have no obvious symptoms at all.
A diagnosis is obtained through a simple blood test to determine a patient’s thyroid hormone level.
Treatments for Graves’ Disease
There are a number of treatments for Graves’ Disease.
Prescription medications can lower the amount of thyroid hormones produced by the body, regulating them to normal levels.
Sometimes surgery, in which part or all of the thyroid gland is removed, is the recommended approach. In most cases, people who have surgery for Graves’ Disease will develop an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), and will have to take thyroid replacement hormones for the rest of their lives.
Radioactive iodine is another treatment option. The iodine damages thyroid cells to shrink the thyroid gland, to reduce hormone levels. Like surgery, this condition usually leads to hypothyroidism, requiring medication for the rest of the patient’s life.
Annual blood tests are necessary to make sure thyroid levels remain within the appropriate range.
If left untreated, Graves’ Disease can lead to more serious complications, including birth defects in pregnancy, increased risk of a miscarriage and, in extreme cases, death.
Graves Disease is often accompanied by an increase in heart rate, which may lead to further heart complications.
This article is adapted from information provided by the Office on Women’s Health in the Department of Health and Human Services.