Graves' disease is an autoimmune condition. An autoimmune disease is wherein the cells of the body fail to distinguish between their own cells and foreign bodies. Thus, they end up mistakenly attacking their own, causing an autoimmune disease. Graves' disease is a condition that affects the thyroid gland, often rendering it more than twice its size, a condition known as goiter. Thus, the gland not only becomes hyperactive, but also leads to various symptoms of hyperthyroidism.
Symptoms of Graves' Disease
- One common symptom is exophthalmos. Exophthalmos is defined as the protrusion of the eyes out of their socket. It is also known as proptosis and is normally seen bilaterally. This occurs due to abnormal connective tissue deposition in the orbit and extraocular muscles.
- Despite an increase in the appetite, the person tends to lose weight. This is because the basal metabolism rate becomes very high. Thus, the individual has unexplained weight loss and is always overworked and fatigued.
- The heart rate is very high. The high heart rate also leads to palpitations.
- The edema seen in Graves' disease is hallmark of this condition, as it is non-pitting in nature. Goiter or thyroid swelling is diffuse, without any clear demarcation.
- The symptoms observed in the eye are very serious, and are known as Graves' ophthalmopathy. In mild cases, slight eyelid retraction is observed. Upper eyelid retraction is a sign of Graves' orbitopathy. Due to continuous retraction, the eyes cannot blink regularly, which may lead to corneal dryness. The patients also have a dysfunctional lachrymal (tear) gland. This leads to irritation of the eye and may eventually lead to periorbital swelling and inflammation.
- In moderate cases, there may also be myopathy. The inflammation and edema may eventually lead to other abnormalities, like problems with eye muscles, leading to diplopia and other vision problems. This may progress to fibrosis of the eye muscles, which increases the intraocular pressure as well.
- In severe and fast progressing cases of the disease, there are critical changes in the orbit of the eye. With progressive exophthamosis, restrictive myopathy and continuous visual defects, there may eventually be complete loss of vision and permanent blindness.
- High blood pressure and arrhythmia
- Tremors on hands
- Heat intolerance
- Restlessness and insomnia
- Polyphagia (increased appetite)
- Muscle weakness
- Erratic behavior and emotional instability
- Sensitivity to light
- Panic attacks
The final diagnosis is done with the help of blood tests to check for high thyroid levels, and not merely on the basis of symptoms. The treatment for Graves' disease will entail the use of antithyroid drugs and radioiodine. Only in very rare cases is there a need for a thyroidectomy. One needs to keep in mind that living with Graves' disease does not equal a compromised lifestyle. With proper precautions and treatment, one can always mitigate the symptoms to an extent where they do not interfere with day-to-day life.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.