Grave’s disease is a thyroid disorder that can effect men or women, though it is most common in adult females. It is a type of hyperthyroidism that occurs when the immune system attacks the thyroid gland. This attack causes excessive production of the thyroxin hormone in the gland.
Scientists and doctors are still unsure what exactly causes Grave’s disease. It is currently the accepted view that both environment and genetics play a role. Since women have a higher rate of Grave’s occurrences, it is believed sex can be a factor as well.
Left untreated over a long period of time, Grave’s disease can be potentially deadly. However, it is very uncommon for the condition to result in actual death. If caught in time, treatment should be available.
Grave’s disease can have many assorted symptoms. A common sign is enlargement of the thyroid gland due to extra hormone production, which results in abnormal anxiety, hand tremors, rapid heartbeat, fatigue, unexplained weight loss, and increased perspiration. But even without an enlarged gland, these symptoms may occur.
It is less common for a mild eye problem to develop, called Graves’ ophthalmopathy. This is another side effect of the over-active thyroid. The tissue behind the eyeball swells, causing the eyeball to bulge slightly out of its orbit. The bugling can make eyes dry, irritable, and light sensitive, as well as cause swelling to eyelids.
The eyes can become even more irritated and sensitive if the patient smokes or has severe allergies that cause eye problems. Patients who live/work in an environment with heavy smoke pollutants, like manufacturing plants or automobile emissions are more likely to develop the ophthalmopathy.
In extreme cases Grave’s Ophthalmopathy can cause limited eye movement due to swelling and mild to moderate double vision. Ulcers can grow on the eye’s cornea and result in foggy or diminished vision. But these kinds of eye problems can easily be signs of other ailments and should not be considered a sure sign of Grave’s disease.
Occasionally, Grave’s disease can also manifest as the skin condition Grave’s dermopathy. The condition causes reddening, swelling, and irritation to the skin on the lower legs and feet. But this is another symptom that may or may not be a sign of Grave’s disease.
Over the long term, the overactive thyroid can create brittle bones by interfering with the bones ability to absorb calcium. In some patients brittle hair can be also be a sign of Grave’s disease. The heart can be effected as well, though the problems can usually be corrected with the right treatments.
Doctor’s will conduct a check of symptoms, a blood test, and/or radioactive iodine injection. The symptom check will be both visual and verbal. An enlarged thyroid will be looked for, and you will be asked to list any problems you’ve experienced.
A blood test can be done to test thyroxin and a thyroid stimulating hormone levels. High levels of Thyroxin and low levels of the thyroid stimulating hormone can mean you have Grave’s disease.
Radioactive iodine can be used with the thyroid and the intake measured. Quick absorption of the radioactive iodine can mean that your body is creating too much thyroxin. Indication of Grave’s disease in all three tests is about the closest a patient can get as far as a firm diagnosis.
The symptoms of Grave’s disease can be eased by using beta blocking medications. These blockers block some of the hormones harmful effects, but your thyroid will still be producing too much thyroxin.
Grave’s disease can be treated with anti-thyroid medications that reduce excessive hormone production. These medications can reduce symptoms and reduce thyroxin levels. However, the treatment can take years and relapse is somewhat common.
Radioactive iodine is used to attack the cells of the overactive thyroid, causing it to shrink over time and produce less thyroxin. This treatment is usually avoided in patients with pre-existing eye problems though.
As a last resort, surgery can be performed to completely remove the thyroid gland. If the surgery is performed, the patient will most likely need lifelong thyroxin treatment to create normal hormone levels.