Graves’ disease is an autoimmune condition that causes your thyroid to become hyperactive work harder than it needs to. It is one of the most common thyroid problems and the leading cause of hyperthyroidism, a condition in which the thyroid gland produces too many hormones.
Hormones secreted by the thyroid gland control metabolism, or the speed at which the body converts food into energy. Metabolism is directly linked to the amount of hormones that circulate in the bloodstream.
If, for some reason, the thyroid gland secretes too much of these hormones, the body’s metabolism kicks into high gear, causing a pounding heart, sweating, trembling, and weight loss.
Normally, the thyroid gets its production orders through another chemical called thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), released by the pituitary gland in the brain.
But in Graves’ disease, a malfunction in the body’s immune system releases abnormal antibodies that act like TSH.
Spurred by these false signals to produce, the thyroid’s hormone factories work overtime and overproduce.
Nervousness, anxiety or irritability
Tired or weak muscles
Shaking in your hands
Frequent bowel movements or diarrhea
Greater sensitivity to heat or increase sweating
Unintentional weight loss
An enlarged thyroid (also called a goiter)
A fast or irregular heartbeat
Changes in your period for women
Erectile dysfunction in men
Loss of sex drive (low libido)
A blood test to check your levels of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) and other thyroid hormones.
With Graves’ disease your TSH levels are usually suppressed and your other hormones are elevated.
Lab tests to look for the antibodies that cause Graves’s disease. If you don’t have them, that’s a sign that your hyperthyroidism is caused by something else.
A radioactive iodine uptake test that uses small doses of radioactive iodine to watch how much of it is taken up into your thyroid from your bloodstream.
Your body normally uses iodine to make thyroid hormones, so if it takes in a lot of the radioactive iodine it is a sign that it is working harder than it needs to.
A thyroid scan to see where the radioactive iodine travels in your thyroid gland.
If it goes all over your thyroid, that suggests you have Graves’ disease, because with other causes of hypothyroidism, only some parts of the gland are involved.
Anti-thyroid medications make your thyroid produce less thyroid hormone.
They aren’t permanent treatments but can be used for long periods of time and sometimes help even after you’ve stopped treatment.
They’re usually the treatment of choice for pregnant or breastfeeding women who can’t be exposed to radiation.
They’re also sometimes used in combination with radioactive iodine therapy.
Beta blockersare medications typically used to reduce blood pressure, and they can help rapidly relieve some of the symptoms of hyperthyroidism including shaking, rapid heartbeat, and anxiety.
Surgery is a less common treatment for Graves’ disease but may be a good choice if you have a goiter or you’re pregnant and can’t take anti-thyroid medications.
During surgery, some or all of your thyroid gland is removed. After surgery, you may need to take a daily thyroid medication for the rest of your life.
Although the symptoms can cause discomfort, Graves’ disease generally has no long-term adverse health consequences if you get prompt and proper medical care.