What is Graves disease?
Graves disease is an autoimmune disorder of the thyroid gland that affects approximately 25% of 1% of the U.S. population. This disease occurs 8 times more frequently in women than men and affects Caucasians and Asians more frequently than African Americans. In this thyroid disorder, the white blood cells attack the thyroid gland, the thyroid gland then responds with an over production of thyroid hormones (hyperthyroidism) and the final result is a hyper metabolic state and engorgement of the thyroid gland.
Symptoms of Graves disease
- exophthalmos (bulging eyeball)
- edema (swelling) around the eyelids
- constant staring
- eyelid retraction
- pressure sensation in the eye sockets
- dryness and irritation to eyes
- double vision
- loss of vision
Why is there eye involvement in Graves disease?
They eyes are targets for the autoimmune system to attack in Graves disease because they contain tissues that contain proteins similar to the tissues of the thyroid gland. These symptoms of the eye may be mild and others may be so severe that permanent vision loss is inevitable. Sometimes these eye symptoms don’t present until one or two years after being diagnosed with Graves disease. One classic eye involvement characteristic of Graves disease is exophthalmos, bulging eye ball. However, not all people with Graves disease will have this symptom.
Other symptoms of Graves disease
- difficulty concentrating
- breast enlargement in men (rarely)
- goiter (possibly)
- heat intolerance
- irregular heart beat (palpitation, arrhythmia)
- increased appetite
- weight loss
- shortness of breath upon exertion
- muscle weakness
- irregular menstrual cycle
These symptoms are not conclusive and other symptoms may occur.
What is thyrotoxicosis? Is thyroid crisis a thyroid storm?
Thyrotoxicosis is a condition associated with Graves disease and is caused by excessive concentrations of free thyroid hormones, mainly T4. Many of the symptoms of thyrotoxicosis are characterized by signs of over activity of the sympathetic nervous system: tremor, tachycardia, sweating that produces weight loss, fatigue and heat intolerance. This sweating and heat intolerance is due to hormones called catecholamines. In our system the level of catecholamines is usually normal. But, the excessive production of thyroid hormones seems to potentiate their actions. Also, anyone who has hyperthyroidism needs to beware of a potential life threatening condition called thyrotoxic crisis, also known as thyroid storm. This condition occurs in 1-2% of people with hyperthyroid disease, frequently affects the elderly and has a mortality rate of 10-20%.
How will you know if you have this thyroid disorder?
If you have any of the above symptoms or if you just feel that something just doesn’t feel right please go to your primary care provider for an evaluation. Your primary care provider will most likely refer you to an endocrinologist, a physician who specializes in glands and balancing hormones in the body. As with any autoimmune disorder Graves disease is diagnosed by a detailed history of symptoms, a physical examination and specific tests and procedures. This complete workup should include a physical examination to assess any physical changes, an electrocardiogram (EKG) to evaluate heart rhythm, etc., a thyroid scan to visualize goiters, and/or other tumors and last, but not least, thyroid function blood tests (TH, TSH, T4 & T3, TG, etc.) should also be obtained to evaluate thyroid hormones and their functioning ability. These specific thyroid hormones are the ones who will help you primary care provider diagnose a thyroid disorder.
What can you do to help yourself if you have this thyroid disorder?
There is no cure for Graves disease but at least it can be controlled. If untreated, this thyroid disorder can lead to serious health problems, even possibly death. So be good to you, and seek the guidance and treatment plan required to effectively treat this disease. Hyperthyroidism Nashville TN is a website that discusses hyperthyroidism, provides contact information for anyone seeking an endocrinologist, and also provides a video for viewing to improve your understanding of this disorder. In Nashville, there are also thyroid specialists who treat hyperthyroidism naturally. So you have options! Whether you prefer traditional or alternative treatment is not important. What is important is for you to get the treatment your need! Remember, your system consists of components and all of these components are connected, affecting one another. An untreated overactive thyroid gland keeps the metabolic rate accelerated, and will eventually wear and destroy other components of your system. So be wise and seek the help you need now!