Graves’ disease, also referred to as toxic diffuse goiter, characterizes itself by overproduction of the thyroid hormone (hyperthyroidism). The exact cause of this type of autoimmune disorder is still unknown. However, genetic background and environmental factors greatly increase the risk. The disease is prevalent more often in woman, representing 7 to 1 ratio. The most common symptoms include increased sweating, hyperactivity, hands and fingers tremor, insomnia, weight loss and eye problems. Treatment methods usually include surgery or medications, and their task is to decrease thyroid hormone production. When left untreated, it might result in several dangerous consequences, including death.
Graves’ disease characteristics
This condition is caused by thyroid gland malfunction, which further leads to thyroid hormones overproduction. Thyroid hormones are very important for human organism, because they are responsible for controlling metabolism, protein synthesis and are in synergy with growth hormone, thus they are crucial for proper tissues development. Too high levels of thyroid hormones are interfering with those processes, leading to several abnormalities. What is more, Graves’ disease is prevalent more often in women than man, representing itself with 7:1 female-male ratio, and usually it affects people during their 40-50s. This type of ailment is the leading cause of hyperthyroidism.
Causes and symptoms of Graves’ disease
Although the exact cause is still unknown, there are several factors that greatly increase the risk. One of them are genetic background and family history, which means that Graves’ disease can be inherited across generations. Another risk factors include presence of other autoimmune disorders, certain infections, prolonged stress and even smoking.
Signs and symptoms may vary, and not all of them are present simultaneously. Most of them are related to hyperthyroidism. What is interesting, approximately 30% of the cases result in Graves’ ophthalmopathy, which is an inflammation of the eye surrounding tissues.
The most common symptoms include:
- Increased sweating
- Hands and fingers tremor
- Unintentional weight loss
Common Graves’ ophthalmopathy symptoms include:
- Exophthalmos (bulging of the eye)
- Eye pain
- Doubled vision
- Eye dryness
Diagnosis and treatment
Graves’ disease in early phases might be difficult to recognize, because initial signs and symptoms can be mistakenly linked to other diseases. Apart from this, in later phases diagnosis is usually easier to establish, since the combination of signs and symptoms is fairly unique. The doctor can perform several tests, and further base the diagnosis on, e.g. family history, physical examination, computed tomography, magnetic resonance imaging, ultrasound imaging, blood test or biopsy.
Treatment is done in order to decrease production or absorption of thyroid hormones. It includes various methods, and the therapy should be adjusted individually, since there is no universal way to treat this disorder. Treatment methods include antithyroid medications, radioactive iodine therapy (RAI) or surgery. When it comes to associated eyes disorder, a specialist might recommend anti-inflammatory or eye lubricant drops for mild cases. For vision-threatening incidents, either corticosteroid treatment or orbital decompression need to be performed. What is more, smoking can worsen Graves’ ophthalmopathy and decrease therapy efficiency.