Graves Disease is an immune system condition which can cause the Thyroid Gland to become overactive, meaning it produces too much Thyroid hormone. In the UK it is estimated that one in every one-hundred adults have the condition and is more common in women. In-fact women are five to ten times more likely to develop the condition then men according to endocrinesurgeon.co.uk. As it is an autoimmune system condition, Graves Disease causes the body’s own immune system to attack the Thyroid Gland as it confuses the Thyroid Gland as an invader. The autoantibodies attach to the patient’s Thyroid Gland and stimulate it to make thyroid hormones, resulting in a state of thyrotoxicosis. The cause of Graves Disease is currently unknown; however, it is thought that smoking can increase an individual’s risk. It is also thought to run in families and mostly affects middle aged women.
Graves Disease can mimic other conditions however a simple blood test will provide a diagnosis.
Signs and Symptoms of Graves Disease include:
• Being restless, nervous, emotional, irritable, sleeping poorly and being ‘always on the go’.
• Tremor of your hands.
• Losing weight despite an increased appetite.
• The sensation of having a ‘thumping heart’ (palpitations).
• Sweating, a dislike of heat and an increased thirst.
• Runny stools (diarrhoea) or needing to go to the toilet to pass stools more often than normal.
• Shortness of breath.
• Skin problems such as hair thinning and itch.
• Menstrual changes – your periods may become very light or infrequent.
• Tiredness and muscle weakness may be a feature.
• A swelling of your thyroid gland (a goitre) in the neck may occur.
• Eye problems.
Graves Disease can be treated with tablets, followed by radiotherapy. Occasionally surgery may be required. An individual with an over-active Thyroid Gland may not have all the signs or symptoms, it is more likely that they will have a combination of them, and they may develop slowly over a period of time.
Side effects of treatment include:
• High temperature
• Head aches
• Aching joints
• Altered taste
• Upset stomach
• Itchy rash
• Agranulocytosis- a sudden drop in white blood cells which can cause a persistent cough and sore throat
As with all medical conditions, the treatments can have complications. Complications for the treatment of an over-active Thyroid Gland include:
• Eye problems
• Pregnancy issues
• An under-active Thyroid Gland. If the wrong medication is prescribed or if the dosage is incorrect the treatment can cause the opposite condition.
• Thyroid Storm. This is a serious medical emergency and 999 should be called immediately.
• Arterial Fibrillation
• Heart failure
It is important to note that just because Graves Disease can cause an individual to have an over-active Thyroid Gland it does not mean that all the above will be caused. Graves Disease is just one of many causes of Hyperthyroidism. People with the condition can live with the condition if they work with their Doctor and ensure that they follow the advice of their specialist.