Graves disease

8 Things to Know About Graves’ Disease

Do you know these Graves’ disease facts?

Approximately 1 in 200 Americans has Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disorder that causes the thyroid to pump out an excess of thyroid hormone. The thyroid is a small gland located at the base of your neck. When it’s working well, you’re probably not even aware of its existence. But when it goes into overdrive, you can experience disturbing symptoms, including a racing heart, difficulty sleeping, diarrhea, and an abundance of nervous energy.

1. Weight loss can be a symptom of Graves’ disease.

Graves’ disease symptoms include irregular heartbeat, heat sensitivity, shaky hands, muscle weakness, irritability, and bulging eyes. Unexpected weight loss can also be a symptom of Graves’ disease, as excess thyroid hormone speeds up the body’s metabolism. If you are losing weight without effort, see a healthcare provider. Your provider can perform a physical exam and run some tests to see if you have Graves’ disease or another medical condition.

2. Graves’ disease affects more women than men.

Graves’ disease is seven to eight times more common in women than men. The disease often affects women between the ages of 30 and 60. Women who have another autoimmune disorder (such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, or type 1 diabetes) or a family history of Graves’ disease are at increased risk for Graves’ disease. A woman’s risk is also elevated after giving birth. The risk of developing Graves’ disease is seven times higher than usual during the year following a birth, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

3. Graves’ disease can cause pregnancy complications.

Untreated or under-treated Graves’ disease can cause preeclampsia (a potentially fatal condition characterized by high blood pressure), placental abruption (the untimely separation of the placenta from the wall of the uterus), miscarriage, stillbirth, or premature birth. It can also cause problems in the developing baby, including a rapid heart rate, low birth weight, and abnormal thyroid function. Adequate treatment of Graves’ disease can prevent these complications. If you have Graves’ disease, it’s a good idea to talk with your healthcare provider before trying to conceive.

Close-up of Caucasian man's wide-open eye

4. Bulging eyes are a symptom of Graves’ ophthalmopathy.

Approximately 30 to 50% of people with Graves’ disease develop a condition called Graves’ ophthalmopathy, also referred to as thyroid eye disease or Graves’ eye disease. The primary symptom of Graves’ ophthalmopathy is bulging eyes caused by swelling of one or more of the six muscles that turn the eye. Other symptoms include eye irritation, double vision, light sensitivity, difficulty moving the eyes, and eye pressure or pain. Without treatment, Graves’ ophthalmopathy can cause severe eye discomfort and even vision loss, although this is rare. Your healthcare provider can recommend medication, surgery, and other strategies to improve comfort and vision. In many people, the symptoms of Graves’ ophthalmopathy improve with time.

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Graves disease

Advice/Information for Family and Friends of Graves’ disease patients

Do’s and Don’ts for family and friends of Graves’ disease patients.

  • First: Don’t run away from a person who has Graves’ disease/hyperthyroidism. When it comes to Graves’ disease, or any thyroid disease for that matter, it would separate the weak from the strong. Don’t be that friend or spouse that leaves. Help as much as you can, write, email, text, visit, stay there for the long haul. The longer thyroid disease stays, the lonelier it gets.
  • Don’t say things like “Oh, you are just having a bad day, tomorrow will be different”, ” You can’t do the things you use to do 20 years ago” or “If you just get up and move, get outside and do things, you’ll feel better.” That’s not helping folks!
  • Don’t’ share horror stories about people who became worse because they had their thyroid removed, got RAI, or pursued natural treatment. It’s not considered a happy ending, if the character of your story got worse, one or another way.
  • When it comes to a serious disease like Graves’ disease or Hashimoto’s, there are no right words. Keep it simple: “I’m here for you!”. And mean it. Sometimes you don’t have to speak even, your presence is enough and matters more than any words. Keep in touch, even your friend/spouse with Graves’ disease is too tired to talk, or to spend time with you. Continue to be there for them.
  • Don’t offer medical advice or discourage the person from pursuing the course of treatment he or she was chosen. (Unless you are a medical professional and you’ve been asked for an advice). Whether you agree with their decisions or not, respect the choices they have made. It’s about their health, not yours.
  • Don’t blame the person for being sick with thyroid disease. It’s not their conscious choice. Don’t point that he/she is being sick because of smoking, not eating healthy, lack of exercise, eating too much red meat, stress or negative thinking. Seriously, don’t do that!
  • Don’t point out anything that isn’t flattering- like their bulging or protruded eyes (that hurts!), brittle nails, skinny bodies, overweight bodies or fine hair. Make sure that your words are necessary, helpful and kind. That matters!
  • HugDon’t be afraid of the person being sick: Graves’ disease or any thyroid disease is not contagious. Get in there and hug, hugs mean more than words!

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Graves disease

5 Causes of Graves’ Disease and 5 Solutions for It

It is estimated that between 3 and 10 million people are diagnosed with hyperthyroidism or an overactive thyroid.1 The most common form of hyperthyroidism is the autoimmune condition known as Graves’ disease.

I was diagnosed with Graves’ during my second year of medical school, and in my book, The Autoimmune Solution, I share my personal experience with Graves’ disease and how conventional medicine failed me. I never want anyone to go through what I went through, so it is my mission to empower as many people as I can with the information they need to use a healthier and more natural way to recover from Graves’ and other forms of hyperthyroidism.

What is Graves’ Disease?

Your thyroid, the butterfly-shaped gland in the front of your neck, produces hormones to help regulate body temperature, heart rate, growth, energy production, and brain health. Hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid produces too much thyroid hormone. When thyroid hormones are too high, energy metabolism will speed up, causing the body to burn through nutrients too quickly. This can result in malnutrition and chronic illness. While I combatted Graves’ I ate everything in sight and went from a size 4 to a size 0 in a matter of months.

The thyroid can become overactive for many reasons, yet it is commonly a result of the autoimmune condition Graves’ disease. Graves’ disease accounts for roughly 60-80% of all hyperthyroid cases.2 Normally, thyroid function is regulated by the pituitary gland, a tiny gland responsible for secreting TSH, which signals the thyroid to produce thyroid hormones T3 and T4. In Graves’ disease, an antibody known as thyrotropin receptor antibody (TRAb) can mimic pituitary hormones and completely override the system, inducing an overactive thyroid. You can also develop Thyroid Peroxidase (TPO) antibodies or Antithyroglobulin antibodies. I only had antibodies to TPO, which I frequently saw in my clinic as well.

Two other forms of hyperthyroidism which are not autoimmune conditions are known as toxic multinodular goiter and toxic adenoma. Toxic multinodular goiter involves the growth of independently functioning nodules on the thyroid gland itself. These nodules are able to stimulate the thyroid without the use of TSH, creating havoc in your thyroid hormone process, and provoking an overactive thyroid.

Toxic adenoma is a benign tumor consisting of thyroid follicular cells, which produce excessive amounts of T3 and/or T4. The excess thyroid hormones produced by toxic adenomas can suppress the function of remaining healthy thyroid tissue, leading to hyperthyroidism.

Graves’ Disease Symptoms

  • Hot flashes, sweating
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Frequent stools, loose stool or diarrhea
  • Difficulty sleeping and insomnia
  • Anxiety, irritability, or constant fatigue
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Changes in menstrual cycles
  • Reduced libido
  • Bulging eyes
  • Thick red skin on shins or feet
  • Increased appetite
  • Osteoporosis
  • Hand tremors
  • Muscle weakness

How is Graves’ Disease Diagnosed?

1. Blood testing your thyroid hormone levels is the first step. In hyperthyroidism, the thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) will be very low and the Free T4 and Free T3 will be elevated. In autoimmune conditions, you will see elevated levels of antibodies as well.

2. Radioactive iodine uptake (RAIU) is the next step in diagnosing a thyroid imbalance. An RAIU using a small dose of I-131 will determine how much iodine the thyroid takes up. A high iodine uptake is indicative of Graves’ disease. This test can be helpful in ruling out other possible causes of an overactive thyroid.

3. Ultrasound (US) of the thyroid is a helpful step to look at nodules on the thyroid. Your doctor may request for you to have a fine needle biopsy to confirm that the nodules are not cancerous.

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