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Graves’ Disease – Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, Pictures

Updated on November 4, 2013

Graves’ disease is a type of immune system abnormality that causes hyperthyroidism or elevated secretion of thyroid hormones. Out of all the varied conditions that can cause hyperthyroidism, Graves’ disease is the most dominant cause.

The thyroid hormones play a vital role in the regulation of varied body systems. Hence, the signs and symptoms of Graves’ disease can be far reaching and considerably affect the overall well-being of the patient.

Graves’ disease is life-threatening only in rare cases. It can affect any person, but is usually prevalent among women and individuals younger than 40 years old. Treatment of Graves’ disease involves limiting the production of thyroid hormones, reducing the severity of associated symptoms, and preventing the onset of complications such as thyroid storms, cardiac disorders, weakened bones, and pregnancy abnormalities.

Symptoms of Graves’ disease

Individuals affected by Graves’ disease will commonly elicit the below listed symptoms:

  • Diarrhea or persistent bowel movements
  • Erectile dysfunction or decreased sex drive
  • Menstrual cycle changes
  • Thyroid gland enlargement or goiter
  • Loss in weight, despite normal food consumption
  • Heat sensitivity
  • Elevated levels of sweating; presence of warm, wet, and moist skin
  • Presence of a fine tremor in the fingers and hands
  • Irregular or fast heartbeat
  • Fatigue or excessive tiredness
  • Sleep anomalies
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety

Graves' ophthalmopathy: It is a condition which causes abnormalities of the muscles and other tissues present around the eyes. It arises due to inflammation and other actions of the immune system. The symptoms of Graves' ophthalmopathy may include:

  • Protruding eyes
  • Sandy sensations in the eyes
  • Excessive tearing
  • Photosensitivity
  • Partial eye movements, resulting in a static stare
  • Pain or pressure in the eyes
  • Ocular redness or inflammation
  • Puffy or swollen eyelids
  • Irritated and dry eyes
  • Double vision
  • In rare cases, blurred vision or vision disturbances, and/or corneal ulcers

Graves' dermopathy: It is characterized by elevated thickening and reddening of the skin, most commonly on the shins and the upper section of the feet. It is a rare sign of Graves’ disease.

Causes of Graves’ disease

Graves' disease is caused due to some kind of immune system dysfunction.

It is a known fact that the immune system is the natural fighting mechanism of the body. It manufactures several types of antibodies that target specific bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms. For reasons that are as yet unclear, the immune system in patients with Graves' disease mistakenly produces an antibody, known as TRAb or thyrotropin receptor antibody, which attacks a specific protein found on the surface of thyroid gland cells.

It is also known that the functions of the thyroid gland are regulated by a hormone secreted by the pituitary gland located at the base of the brain. The TRAb essentially mimics the functionality of the pituitary hormone, thereby overriding its actions and causing excessive manufacture of the thyroid hormones or hyperthyroidism.

The thyroid hormones play an important role in the conduction of different bodily functions such as metabolism, regulation of body temperature, menstrual cycles, maintenance of muscle strength, and cardiac and nervous system functioning. Thus, Graves' disease can result in adverse effects that are widespread and almost debilitating.

Cause of Graves' ophthalmopathy: Its precise cause is also not clear. It is however understood that the TRAb has some sort of ‘attraction’ for tissues occurring around the eyes. The antibody setsoff certain immune system actions and inflammation which eventually cause the symptoms associated with Graves' ophthalmopathy.The condition can occur concurrently along with hyperthyroidism, or it may appear many months later, or it can be a standalone disorder. The symptoms may however occur many years before or after the commencement of hyperthyroidism.

Graves' disease can affect people from all walks of life. However, the presence of below listed risk factors can pose elevated threat to development of Graves' disease:

  • Graves' disease tends to run in families, which in turn points to genetic links
  • It usually affects individuals younger than forty years
  • Women are more susceptible to the disease than men
  • Presence of type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, or other immune system disorders
  • Expectant mothers or those who have recently given birth to a child are at increased risk, particularly those with a genetic predisposition to Graves' disease.
  • Genetically vulnerable people with various illness and other life events that increase the levels of emotional and physical stress
  • Smoking. The risk increases with an increase in the number of cigarettes smoked per day

Treatment of Graves' disease

Some of the treatment options for Graves' disease are listed below:

  • Radioactive iodine therapy
  • Use of anti-thyroid drugs
  • Intake of beta blockers
  • The final option is surgical removal of the thyroid gland. Patients undergoing thyroidectomy will need thyroid replacement therapy for the rest of their life.

Graves' ophthalmopathy: Mild symptoms can be treated with non-prescription artificial tears in the day and lubricating gels during the night. Decreasing the stress levels, regularly exercising, and intake of balanced and healthy meals also help. Home remedies such as use of sunglasses, application of cool compresses on the eyes, and keeping the head in an elevated position while sleeping can also help alleviate the symptoms. Severe cases may require treatment with corticosteroids, or surgical intervention.

Graves' dermopathy: Reddening and swelling can be reduced via hydrocortisone ointments or creams as well as use of compression wraps.

Graves' Disease Pictures


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