What is Graves’ Disease and Should You Worry About It?
In recent news, Wendy Williams announced to the world that she would be taking a three-week hiatus from her daily talk show, The Wendy Williams Show. This she said, was due to being diagnosed with Graves’ Disease and hyperthyroidism. The TV host fainted on her show, before revealing her condition. Worrying thousands of fans in the process. So, what is Graves‘ disease and should you be worried about it?
Graves’ disease was first described by the Irish doctor Robert J. Graves, in 1835. Although the condition may also be known by the common term Basedow’s disease in other parts of Europe. The disease is classified as an autoimmune disorder that leads to an over-activity of the thyroid gland, otherwise called hyperthyroidism.
The thyroid gland is located in the lower area of the neck, is butterfly shaped, and produces hormones which help the brain, heart, muscles, and other important organs stay in functional working condition.
What Causes Graves’ Disease?
The autoimmune system protects us from bacteria and viruses by destroying them with antibodies. These are produced within the body by our lymphocytes (blood cells). However, when the immune system gets tricked into making these antibodies react with proteins in our cells. Causing the destruction of our own cells and effectively attacks itself.
With Graves’ disease, rather than the immune system attacking and destroying itself, it causes the antibody cells to work overtime (over-activity). The thyrotropin receptor antibodies bind to the thyroid stimulating immunoglobulins (TSO) receptors and cause them to overproduce thyroid hormones. This is what causes one to be diagnosed with hyperthyroidism due to Graves’ disease.
How is Graves’ Disease Diagnosed?
Typically the disease is diagnosed through a physical exam and medical laboratory testing. The first type of laboratory test comes in the form of measuring the number of thyroid hormones that your body is producing. The test will look at the levels of thyroxine (T4), Triiodothyronine (T3), and thyroid stimulating hormones (TSH) in the blood.
Another test measures the thyrotropin receptor antibodies and the thyroid stimulating immunoglobulins and if present confirms the disease. In addition to this, if Graves’ eye is present, if there is a symmetrically enlarged thyroid gland, or there are other autoimmune problems like type one diabetes, pernicious anemia (lack of B12), rheumatoid arthritis, or Vitiligo (white patches on the skin). Graves’ disease may be present.
If you are tested and it comes back negative, a radioactive iodine uptake test (RAIU) can be done to confirm whether or not you have the disease. An ultrasound and imaging tests may also be used.
Graves’ Disease Symptoms?
If Graves’ disease is present, there are three categories of symptoms one might experience.
- The first is hyperthyroidism which can be detected either by muscle weakness, weight loss, trouble sleeping, hand tremors, a racing heartbeat, heat intolerance, or neuropsychiatric symptoms.
- Second is Graves’ eye disease which causes inflammation of the eyes. This leads to bulging of the eyes, and swelling of the tissue in and around the eyes. Early signs of this are redness around the eyes or bulging of the eyes. While later stages include double and diminished vision. It’s important to note here that permanent vision trouble is limited to about five percent of those with the condition. Whereas a third may develop very mild symptoms of the disease.
- Third is a skin condition where the skin on the front of the shins thickens up and becomes red. It isn’t often painful and is relatively mild.
Graves’ Disease Treatment?
There are several levels of treatment options available for the management of the condition.
- The first being radioactive iodine therapy which destroys the overactive cells within the thyroid. This will also cause the thyroid gland to shrink which may bring relief from the symptoms, however, may also require another treatment form to bring those hormone levels back up to their appropriate threshold. Side effects of this include tenderness in the neck and worsened symptoms of Graves’ ophthalmopathy.
- The next treatment option is anti-thyroid medications which interfere with how the thyroid uses iodine to produce hormones. Side effects include liver failure, a decrease in white blood cells, joint pain, and rashes.
- The third treatment option is beta-blockers which block how the hormones affect the body. Meaning the thyroid isn’t being inhibited, just the hormones it secretes. If you have diabetes though, beta-blockers can complicate the management of the condition. Rapid relief is associated with the use of beta-blockers for heat intolerance, anxiety, tremors, and irregular heartbeat. All of which are commonly experienced with Graves’ disease.
- The final treatment option is surgery to remove either the whole or a portion of the thyroid gland. This is really the only “cure-all” treatment. If the thyroid is completely removed, it means the individual will need life-long hormonal treatment. This is to ensure that their body is functioning properly. Side effects of the surgery include damage to the nerves around the vocal cords. Plus possible damage to the parathyroid glands which control the calcium levels in our blood. However, complications from this type of surgery are rare.
Other than the above, eating well and exercising can help with the management of symptoms. Also helping ease the amount of stress you are under. Both lack of exercise and stress can cause the symptoms to get worse over time.
*This post contains affiliate links, where we maybe compensated.