Graves' disease is an autoimmune disorder which causes the thyroid gland to become overactive. In the disorder, the body's immune system mistakenly attacks the body's own cells instead of protecting them from outside invaders. Besides, the body's immune system makes abnormal chemicals called immunoglobulins to stimulate the thyroid gland and produce hormones in excess.
The exact cause of Graves' disease is unknown, but it is known that it tends to run in families. The disease is more common in women than men and strikes 20-40 age-group.
The common symptoms of Graves' disease are nervousness, insomnia, emotional swings, sweating, increased heart rate, frequent bowel movements, unexplained weight loss , muscle weakness, shortness of breath and palpitations. The less common symptoms of Graves' disease are goitre, swelling around the eyes, swelling of the feet and lower legs.
In women, the disease can make menstrual periods less frequent or stop altogether. In elderly, particularly in those with heart disease, there could be a heart failure or heart-related chest pain called angina.
The treatment approaches for Graves ’ disease focus on improving the hyperthyroid symptoms and slow the thyroid's production of hormones. Beta-blocker medications are prescribed to ease the palpitations, increased heart rate, tremor and nervousness. Your doctor may prescribe other medications for anxiety and insomnia. Antithyroid medications, radioactive iodine and surgery are the options to stop the thyroid from producing too much hormone.
Medications – The treatment of Graves' disease usually starts with antithyroid medications. Once your thyroid levels reach a healthy range, you and your doctor can decide whether to continue daily the medications, lower the dosage or stop them.
Radioactive iodine – Radioactive iodine is given orally to completely stop the thyroid from producing thyroid hormone. Those who receive radioactive iodine therapy store a small amount of radiation in their thyroid, so they have to take thyroid medication daily for the rest of their life.
Surgery – This is not a common treatment option and is rarely done. People with very large goitres, only those who don’t respond well to anti-thyroid medication or radioactive iodine, are recommended surgery.
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