What Causes Graves’ Disease?
In this disease, the immune system begins to fight against healthy tissues and cells in your body. In other words, your immune system usually produces proteins known as antibodies, which normally protects us from foreign invaders such as bacteria and viruses. Sometimes your immune system mistakenly produces antibodies called thyroid-stimulating immunoglobulins (TSI). Which targets your own healthy thyroid cells.
Furthermore, these antibodies (TSI) in Graves’ disease bind to receptors on the surface of thyroid cells and stimulate those cells to overproduce and release thyroid hormones. This results in an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism).
People who have an increased risk include:
- Having another autoimmune disease also increases your risk for developing Grave’s disease.
- A family history of Graves’ disease increases the chance of developing the condition.
- Individuals who smoke too much are at higher risk of developing graves’ disease.
- Women develop this disease more than men.
- Individuals suffering from physical or mental stress.
Common signs and symptoms of Graves’ disease include:
- Bulging eyes
- Heat intolerance
- Hand tremors
- Graves’ dermopathy, with thick red skin on the shins
- Anxiety and irritability
- Weight loss
- Change in menstrual cycles
Your doctor may order laboratory tests, if they suspect you have Graves’ disease. This will need to be confirmed by thyroid blood tests. A doctor who specializes in diseases related to hormones, known as an endocrinologist, may handle your tests and diagnosis.
How Is Graves’ Disease Treated?
Three treatment options are available for people with this disease:
Anti-thyroid medication: The most commonly utilized treatment for Graves’ disease is anti-thyroid medication. This medication helps prevent the thyroid gland from producing excess amounts of hormones by blocking the oxidation of iodine in the thyroid gland.
Radioactive iodine therapy: Radioactive iodine is taken orally and directly targets the thyroid gland. This usually requires you to swallow small amounts in pill form. When medication is taken, the radioactive iodine soon builds up in the thyroid gland and slowly destroys any overactive thyroid cells. Your doctor will talk to you about any precautions you should take with this therapy.
Thyroid Surgery: Because other treatments for Graves’ disease have steadily improved, surgery is now less common. However, it is still used if other treatments are unsuccessful. If surgery is necessary, your doctor may remove your entire thyroid gland to eliminate the risk of hyperthyroidism returning. But you will need thyroid hormone replacement therapy on an ongoing basis, if you opt for surgery. Most importantly, speak with your doctor to learn more about the benefits and risks of different treatment options.