LIFESTYLE & COMMUNITY

Graves' Disease: Common Symptoms, Risk Factors, And Potential Complications

Date November 29, 2017 17:10

What is Graves’ disease and who gets it?

Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disorder in which your thyroid gland starts to produce excessive amounts of thyroid hormone. There are other possible causes of hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), but Graves’ disease is the most common one.

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It’s estimated that the disease affects approximately 1 in 200 people in the United States. Anyone can develop the disorder, but women are seven to eight times more likely to have it than men. The exact cause of Graves’ disease is unclear. The disease can be successfully treated, and there are several treatment options, including surgical removal of the thyroid.

The outlook for patients with Graves’ disease is generally positive if they start treatment as soon as they are diagnosed.

What are the symptoms of Graves’ disease?

Grave’s disease is sometimes difficult to diagnose because its symptoms overlap with those of many other conditions. If your doctor suspects you have the disease, he or she will order a blood test and imaging tests (if needed).

Signs and symptoms of Grave’s disease include the following:

  • rapid and irregular heartbeat;
  • increased nervousness and irritability;
  • tiredness and muscle weakness;
  • sleep problems;
  • trembling hands;
  • heat sensitivity and excessive sweating;
  • goiter (an enlarged thyroid);
  • frequent bowel movements or diarrhea;
  • in women, irregular periods;
  • weight loss despite increased appetite.

About a third of Graves’ disease patients develop Graves’ ophthalmopathy, which can manifest in eye pain, double vision, light sensitivity, and bulging eyes.

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Another manifestation of the disease, which is rather rare, is Graves’ dermopathy, in which the skin on your shins (rarely, on other body parts) becomes red or pink and thickened.

Who is at a higher risk of developing Graves’ disease?

Some people are more likely than others to develop Graves’ disease. Factors that increase the risk of developing the disorder include:

  • a family history of autoimmune disorders and/or thyroid disorders;
  • gender – women are at a 7 to 8 times higher risk of the disease than men;
  • emotional or physical stress from stressful life events or illness;
  • smoking – it can contribute to the development of the disease in people who are susceptible to it, and it can also make the symptoms worse.

What complications can develop as a result of Grave’s disease?

If untreated, Graves’ disease can lead to serious complications which include the following:

  • arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat), which can lead to a heart attack, stroke, or heart failure;
  • pregnancy problems, including miscarriage, premature birth, and impaired fetal growth;
  • thyroid storm, which is caused by a dramatic increase of thyroid hormone levels and manifests in worsening of the usual symptoms and developing other symptoms such as vomiting, jaundice, delirium, seizures, extremely low blood pressure, and even coma;
  • weak and fragile bones (osteoporosis), because excessive levels of thyroid hormone can interfere with the absorption of calcium.

To sum up, Graves’ disease improves with treatment, but it can lead to serious health problems if left untreated. If you have symptoms that suggest you might have the disease, talk to your healthcare provider.

Source: NIDDK, Mayo Clinic, WebMD, EndocrineWeb

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This article is purely for informational purposes. Do not self-medicate, and in all cases consult a certified healthcare professional before using any information presented in the article. The editorial board does not guarantee any results and does not bear any responsibility for harm that may result from using the information stated in the article.