Graves’ disease is characterised by the immune system malfunctioning and affecting the thyroid gland. It is instigated by defects in our genes, as well as external environmental influences. It invariably leads to an overactive thyroid gland (present in your neck), which secretes much more thyroid hormones than what the body would require.
It was first documented by Sir Robert James Graves, a renowned Irish surgeon, in the 1800’s and is hence named after him. His studies highlighted the fact that the thyroid hormone is vital for regulating energy metabolism and body weight, and this disorder is one of the leading causes of hyperthyroidism today. While the symptoms of this autoimmune disorder can cause mild uneasiness, as long as the patient receives immediate medical attention, it does not have any severe enduring outcomes.
The symptoms that are usually recorded in patients with Graves’ disease include the following:
- Weight loss even with a raised appetite
- Irregular heartbeat
- Increased levels of nervousness and sweating
- Irregular bowel movements
- Muscle weakness
- Occurrence of goiter (enlarged thyroid gland, leading to a bulge at the base of the neck).
- In some cases, bulging eyes
- Change in frequency of menstrual cycles in women
Diagnosis And Treatment:
The doctor primarily performs a physical exam to examine blood pressure, and blood tests to record the TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) levels. A patient affected by Graves' disease typically displays lower than normal levels of TSH.
The main objective of the entire course of treatment for Graves' disease is to inhibit the excessive production of thyroid hormones. The health care provider prescribes taking anti-thyroid drugs to regulate the thyroid’s use of iodine, besides taking beta blockers to provide relief from the symptoms such as irregular heartbeats, nervousness and muscle weakness.
In severe cases, where there is no significant reduction in the symptoms, the doctor would advise the patient to opt for a thyroidectomy – a procedure to remove all or part of the thyroid gland.