Your thyroid is a gland in your neck that produces hormones that regulate your body's metabolism. When this organ begins producing an overabundance of thyroid hormones, Graves' disease can be the cause. Our experienced surgeons can perform the delicate procedures that are often necessary to provide a cure from Graves'.
What is Graves' Disease?
Graves' disease was first described by Irish physician Sir Robert Graves in the 1800s. Graves' disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes the thyroid to become hyperactive. It is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism in the United States.
Causes of Graves' Disease
Graves' disease is caused by the immune system. Instead of attacking invading bodies like bacteria and viruses, it attacks the thyroid. Graves' disease has a strong hereditary component; individuals with a family history of Graves' are at a higher risk. Some researchers believe Graves' can be precipitated by high levels or stress or a respiratory illness. Graves' is most common in individuals over the age of 20. Like other autoimmune disorders, it is more common in women than in men. However, anyone at any age can develop Graves'.
Symptoms of Graves' Disease
The symptoms of Graves' disease are caused by hyperthyroidism. These symptoms can include:
- heart palpitations.
- unexplained weight loss.
- hair loss.
- frequent bm’s, that may involve diarrhea.
- muscle weakness.
- heat intolerance.
Graves' is the only kind of hyperthyroidism that causes eye disease. People with untreated Graves' may develop an inflammation of the eyes and the surrounding tissue. Left untreated, this can cause double vision, bulging eyes and damage to the cornea and optic nerves. Graves' can also cause a skin condition known as pretibial myxedema. This condition is painless, but can cause a lumpy reddish thickening on the skin of the shins.
How Is Graves' Diagnosed?
Your doctor will discuss your family medical history. If there is a history of Graves' or other autoimmune disorders, it increases your chance of developing Graves'. An assessment of your current symptoms will also be performed. Blood tests will be performed to look at your thyroid hormone levels. Doctors will measure a number of thyroid hormones in the blood that include thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). Your doctor will also probably order an ultrasound of your thyroid. People who have Graves' are at higher risk for thyroid nodules.
Graves' Disease Treatment
Graves’ disease treatment often starts with antithyroid medication that can suppress thyroid activity. Your doctor will order periodic blood tests to adjust the amount of antithyroid medication. These medications are typically the fastest way to reduce thyroid hormones and get relief from thyroid symptoms. You will usually begin seeing relief within a short time. Most patients with Graves’ disease are recommended to have ablation of the gland with radioactive iodine (RAI). This medicine becomes concentrated in the overactive thyroid and destroys the gland over time, reducing the level of thyroid hormone.
If remission is not achieved, surgery to remove the gland may be the best option. For cases involving Graves’ eye disease, surgery is thought to be the treatment of choice, as RAI can worsen this condition. After thyroid removal, you will have to take thyroid medication to compensate for the missing thyroid hormones. Because of the thyroid's proximity to the vocal cords, it is important to have a thyroid removal performed by an experienced surgeon. Our doctors have many years' experience with thyroid removal surgeries for Graves’ disease and other conditions.