Grave’s disease is one of the many autoimmune diseases known to man, and it affects the thyroid, a small gland situated in the neck. Basically, what the condition does is it makes the thyroid gland become overactive. There are a handful of treatments available for Grave’s disease. Having it treated is important to ward off complications such as the weakening of the bones, pregnancy issues and problems with the heart that could lead to death.
What It Does to the Thyroid
The disease causes the thyroid gland to produce more hormone than necessary, which is also known as hyperthyroidism. With an overactive thyroid, all the other bodily functions regulated by the hormones the thyroid gland produces and secretes, such as T3 and T4, are accelerated. They include the heart rate and the speed of conversion of food into energy.
Experts say that Grave’s disease is one of the causes of hyperthyroidism and is related to another autoimmune disorder also affecting the thyroid gland known as Hashimoto’s disease.
Signs and Symptoms of Grave’s Disease
A person who is suffering from the condition may have an enlarged thyroid gland or commonly known as goiter. The thinning of the skin and having brittle hair are the other signs of the condition. It’s not unlikely for the sufferer to experience irritability, hand tremors and insomnia. Increased heart rate and weight loss without trying are common symptoms too.
Women with Grave’s disease may experience less frequent periods and lighter menstrual flow. Some women may also have a hard time getting pregnant.
There are a handful of signs and symptoms that may be seen on someone with Grave’s disease but not on a person with an overactive thyroid. They include the thickening and reddening of the skin (often on the top of the feet and on the shin) as well as the bulging of one or both eyes. Blurring of vision may also be experienced.
Persons Who Can Develop the Problem
Just about anyone may suffer from Grave’s disease. However, experts say that there are certain factors that can increase a person’s likelihood of developing this autoimmune disease. Women are at more risk than men, as well as adults who are below 40 years of age.
Since smoking can negatively affect the immune system, this habit may also put someone at risk of the condition. Pregnancy, having a family history of Grave’s disease, suffering from any other form of autoimmune disease (lupus, vitiligo, rheumatoid arthritis, etc.) and facing stressful life events are also regarded as risk factors.
Complications of Grave’s Disease
If left untreated, the autoimmune disease may cause some serious complications. For instance, it may have a negative effect on the heart’s rhythm and its ability to effectively pump blood throughout the body due to some structural and functional changes.
A pregnant woman with Grave’s disease may suffer from problems such as preterm birth, miscarriage, pre-eclampsia and even maternal heart failure. Thyroid storm is a life-threatening but rare complication of the disease.
How the Autoimmune Disease is Treated
There are different ways of treating Grave’s disease. One of them is the administration of medications that prevent the thyroid gland from producing and secreting too much thyroid hormone. They are generally given for 1 to 2 years only. Some people who take these medications may still suffer from an overactive thyroid after stopping.
Some doctors may recommend the intake of medications containing radioactive iodine or RAI. A form of iodine, it works by destroying the thyroid gland due to its being radioactive. However, lifetime intake of thyroid hormone is necessary afterwards as the body can no longer produce its own.
Surgery is another available treatment for Grave’s disease. This entails the removal of most or all of the thyroid gland. Just like with the intake of medications with RAI, anyone who undergoes surgery for the treatment of Grave’s disease has to take thyroid hormone for the rest of his or her life.