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Graves’ Disease

- 18 December 2008, 07:12

When a body’s immune system turns on itself and begins attacking, it’s called an autoimmune disease.  Your immune system is normally the guard that stands at the gate and protects you from infections and diseases. Sometimes the immune system gets confused for some reason and begins to attack a person’s body.  These illnesses tend to affect females more than males and in fact, nearly 75% of autoimmune diseases affect more women than men and generally during their child bearing years.

There are a great many autoimmune diseases  Some of the more known ones are  Lupus, Multiple Sclerosis, Rheumatoid Arthritis and Graves ’ disease.

Graves’ can be caused when a variety of things come together to trigger the disease.  These triggers can be heredity, the immune system, age, sex hormones and quite possibly stress. If someone in your family has Graves’ then you may inherit a greater chance of coming down with hyperthyroidism at some point in your life.

Graves ’ disease, also called toxic diffuse goiter causes the thyroid gland to go into overdrive causing hyperthyroidism.  Because the thyroid gland sets the rate of the body’s metabolism, the rate at which a body burns energy, it creates more thyroid hormones than is necessary for the body.  An over abundance of thyroid hormones can cause a variety of side effects, like rapid heart rate, nervousness and weight loss. In some cases it can cause a swelling of the tissues around the eyes and also make the eyes bulge.

Other symptoms include:

•fatigue
•difficulty getting pregnant
•more frequent bowel movements
•irritability
•weight loss without dieting
•sensitivity to heat
•increased sweating
•weakness in muscles
•changes in eyesight or in how your eyes look
•lighter periods
•rapid heart beat
•difficulty sleeping
•hand tremors

These symptoms can happen very slowly or quite suddenly and as with most diseases, can be confused with other medical issues.

Once your doctor has diagnosed your illness there are treatments that will help.  There are drugs that will lower the amount of thyroid hormones your body makes which will bring your levels to normal.  There have been cases where patients taking these drugs for a few years enter remission and their thyroid function can return to normal. The drugs then become unnecessary.

Some patients are treated with radioactive iodine which damages and shrinks the thyroid gland as a measure of reducing hormone levels. This will lead to hypothyroidism and a hormone supplement will need to be taken for the remainder of the patient’s life.

Surgery is sometimes indicated to treat Graves’ disease.  This means complete removal of the thyroid gland.  The patient then has an under active thyroid (or a non-existent one) and a thyroid replacement hormone must be taken for the rest of their lives.

Although in most cases, Graves’ disease is not fatal, it can develop into heart problems and cause miscarriages if left untreated.  If the illness becomes severe it can become fatal, although this is rare.  This is why it’s vital to see your doctor when you’re not feeling well and get treatment if you are diagnosed with an autoimmune disease like Graves’ disease.


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