Hyperthyroidism – also commonly referred to as an overactive thyroid – is the overproduction by the thyroid gland of the thyroid hormone called thyroxine. While this condition can be caused by several underlying conditions, one of the most common causes is Grave’s disease.
Grave’s disease is an autoimmune system disorder that causes the immune system to mistakenly attack the thyroid gland; however, this disorder does not cause the deterioration of the thyroid gland but causes it to overproduce the thyroxine hormone.
While Grave’s disease is typically not a life threatening condition, it is not possible to stop the immune system from abnormally attacking the thyroid, therefore, treatment is generally given in the form of prescription medications to regulate or decrease the production of hormones.
Symptoms of Grave’s Disease
Grave’s disease can cause numerous signs and symptoms which will be evaluated along with specific blood testing in order to make an accurate diagnosis. The symptoms associated with Grave’s disease include:
• Enlargement of the thyroid gland (goiter) which may be visible as a swelling in the neck or cause discomfort when swallowing or a choking sensation.
• Anxiety or irritability.
• Difficulty sleeping or fatigue.
• Women may experience a change in their menstrual cycle.
• An increased sensitivity to heat.
• Unexplained weight loss when eating the usual amount of food or even more and an increase in appetite.
• Changes in bowel habits – particularly more frequent bowel movements.
• Tremors in the hands or fingers.
• Brittle hair or the loss of hair.
• Heart palpitations, rapid heartbeat, or abnormal heartbeat.
• Increased or excessive sweating.
Treatment of Grave’s Disease
While the cause of Grave’s disease remains unknown and there is no definitive cure, the symptoms of this condition can be effectively treated with prescription medications and sometimes a patient can experience a remission, however, Grave’s disease will typically reoccur.
Some of the most common medications given for the treatment of this condition are beta blockers that work in such a manner as to partially block the action of the thyroxine hormone which can alleviate the symptoms of tremors, a rapid heartbeat, and anxiety or nervousness. Beta blockers are often utilized in combination with other forms of treatment.
Anti-thyroid medications are often prescribed to reduce the excess production of thyroid hormones and have been known to cause Grave’s disease to go into long-term remission in some patients after they have taken this medication for one to two years, however, this disease commonly reoccurs.
Anti-thyroid medications are often utilized in combination with radioactive iodine treatment or RAI or a surgical procedure to manage the symptoms of Grave’s disease; however, both of these medications have the potential to cause serious liver damage that can be fatal.
Thyroid surgery for Grave’s Disease
In some cases a surgical procedure may be an option – particularly when an individual can not take certain medications or does not wish to have radioactive iodine therapy. This surgical procedure is called a thyroidectomy and consists of partial or total removal of the thyroid gland.
While Grave’s disease is generally not considered a life threatening condition, if you are experiencing any of the signs or symptoms associated with a thyroid disorder it is essential that you consult with your physician to obtain a medical evaluation as certain thyroid conditions can sometimes lead to serious complications.
By Anne Ahira
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