Guest Author - Jim Lowrance
Some statistics estimate that over three million Americans suffer from Graves’ disease. This thyroid disorder that causes hyperthyroidism (over-active thyroid), is caused by an autoimmune response that sends out antibodies to attack the thyroid gland.
Graves’ disease is a type of hyperthyroidism, caused by an autoimmune response in the body. With Graves’ disease, a patient will have antibodies sent out by the immune system to attack their thyroid gland. These antibodies attach to the thyroid gland and in response, the gland produces more thyroid hormone and the levels become too high for the body’s metabolism to function properly. The sped up metabolism is called “hyperthyroidism” and Graves’ disease is the most common cause of an over-functioning thyroid gland.
The antibodies that cause Graves’ disease are called “thyroid stimulating immunoglobulins” (TSI). Patients who develop Graves’ disease can have several antibodies directed against their thyroid glands. The antibodies cause destruction of the gland, plus swelling and goiter from resulting inflammation. The type of antibody that contributes to the hyper-functioning of the gland, however, is the TSI antibody. These are the ones that help to better diagnose a hyperthyroid patient as having Graves’ disease; TSI antibodies are detected in a patient using blood lab testing.
Graves’ disease patients can develop nodules on their thyroid glands that contribute to the over-production of thyroid hormone. These nodules are small tumors that begin to develop within the thyroid gland and some of these are what are referred to as “hot nodules”, meaning they cause an increase in thyroid hormone production. Not all nodules that develop in a diseased gland become “hot”; many do not cause the thyroid to become stimulated to over-produce and these are referred to as “cold nodules”. Some patients who have multiple nodules that are hot are termed as having a “toxic nodular goiter”. If the patient simply has thyroid enlargement or goiter that is characteristic of the disease, it is referred to as “diffuse toxic goiter”, which is also another term for Graves’ disease.
The symptoms of Graves’ disease are those of a sped up metabolism. A person with hyperthyroidism, caused by Graves’ disease, will experience an overactive metabolism resulting in the following symptoms: anxiety, nervousness, weight loss, diarrhea, sweating, oily skin, depression, goiter, rapid heart rate, hypertension, muscle weakness, tremor, hair loss, bone degeneration and increased appetite.
If not treated, patients with Graves’ disease have increased risk for serious health problems. This disease that causes hyperthyroidism must be diagnosed and treated if a patient is suspected of having it. If it goes untreated, serious health problems can develop including heart disease, organ damage from hypertension, chronic osteoporosis and Graves’ ophthalmology, which is an inflammatory problem that can develop in the eyes. This eye disorder, also called “thyroid eye disease” (TED) can cause serious damage and even blindness in some patients. Unfortunately, with regard to Graves’ disease, patients who do develop Graves’ ophthalmology (GO) may not be able to prevent the eye damage even though they are well treated for their hyperthyroidism.
People with hyperthyroid symptoms need to see a licensed physician to have proper testing and diagnosis of the cause of their symptoms. If Graves’ disease is diagnosed as the cause, there are effective treatments to help correct symptoms and the resulting complications.