THE DOCTORS 101 CHRONIC SYMPTOMS & CONDITIONS #53: GRAVES’ DISEASE

Graves’ disease is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism. Hyperthyroidism is an over activity of the thyroid gland, and can also be produced by an overgrowth in the gland called an adenoma.

The thyroid gland is an H-shaped structure sitting astride the wind pipe. If a physician palpates the front of your neck, she is most likely trying to see if she can feel the thyroid gland. Enlargement of the grand can interestingly be produced by either overactivity or under activity.

Graves’ disease is an auto immune disease, where the antibodies produced attach to the TSH receptor on the thyroid gland, stimulating overactivity.

Many  metabolic processes are regulated by the thyroid gland, and increased activity produces difficulties like insomnia, fast irregular heartbeat, shaking of the hands, heat intolerance, and irritability. Other symptoms are protrusion of the eyes, fatigue, muscle weakness, and unexplained weight loss.

The doctor suspects the disease because of the symptoms, and must do blood tests and perhaps imaging tests to make the diagnosis. Treatment consists of decreasing thyroid activity, either by radiation techniques, anti-thyroid chemicals, or surgery.

It is very difficult to reduce thyroid activity in exactly the right amount, so that thyroid administration will be necessary. This can be tricky, and requires several visits for adjustment.

The ultimate cause of Graves’ disease is unknown. The immediate cause is thyroid stimulating immunoglobulin. Graves is an auto immune disease, and is more common in people who suffer from other autoimmune diseases, such as type one diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, or inflammatory bowel disease. The doctor will question you about some of these diseases.

Both causes of hyperthyroidism have occurred in friends of mine. The friend with the adenoma had an easier time with medication adjustment, and had no other problems. The one with the Graves’ disease has had a difficult time getting a proper dose of thyroid medication, and she has other problems with auto immunity. Women typically have more  autoimmune problems.

Interestingly, the commonest cause of low thyroid activity is also an autoimmune disease. Some of the symptoms of low thyroid are the opposite of excessive thyroid activity; sleeping is excessive, there is sensitivity to cold, unexplained weight gain, and sluggishness.

Check with the doctor if you have any of the symptoms mentioned.
There is a Cleveland clinic discussion of Graves’ disease following this article.

—Dr. C.

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