Graves' disease is an autoimmune disease that affects the thyroid gland. The thyroid produces hormones called T3 and T4, which help regulate the body's use of energy. With Graves' disease, the body produces too much of these hormones, which in turn causes body functions like heart rate and food metabolism to speed up. It's an autoimmune disease because it occurs because the immune system mistakenly attacks part of the body.
Symptoms of Graves' Disease
The overactive thyroid caused by Graves' disease can lead to a number of problems. Common issues include a rapid heartbeat, trouble sleeping, nervousness, irritability and trembling hands. People with Graves' disease can also develop a goiter, or enlarged thyroid, and they might see their skin thin out and their hair get brittle. Other signs of Graves' disease included unexplained weight loss, weak muscles and frequent bowel movements. Graves' disease can also cause serious eye issues, including swelling, inflammation and bulging of the eyes.
Graves' disease affects 10 times as many women as men. There appears to be a genetic component to the disorder, and people with other types of autoimmune diseases also seem to be more likely to develop Graves' disease. An infection, stress and pregnancy have all been linked to the onset of Graves' disease, as well.
With proper treatment, Graves' disease can be managed and even cured. Typically, the first course of action is a class of medications called antithyroid medicines, which limit how much hormone the thyroid produces. Another option is radioactive iodine therapy, which involves swallowing a radioactive pill that damages the thyroid and limits the amount of hormone that it produces. Surgery to remove the thyroid or part of the thyroid is also an option. People who have radioactive iodine treatment or surgery usually need to take thyroid hormones afterward to replace the hormones that are no longer being produced as a result of the treatment.
SOURCES: U.S. Office on Women's Health; American Thyroid Association