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Graves’ disease

Graves’ disease symptoms and treatment

This autoimmune disease causes a distressing constellation of symptoms: Nervousness, bulging eyes and difficulty breathing, just to name a few. The condition is Graves’ disease and it affects as many as 10 million Americans, including Grammy-winning recording artist Missy Elliot.

“Graves’ disease specifically refers to when the thyroid gland is attacked by the immune system, which causes thyroid cells to overproduce thyroid hormone,” says Bruce Bode, M.D., an endocrinologist at Piedmont Atlanta Hospital.

Symptoms of Graves’ disease

One of the most classic symptoms is nervousness.

“Patients might feel anxious, experience trembling or have a rapid pulse rate,” says Dr. Bode.

Graves’ disease also affects the eyes.

“Sometimes the eye muscles are attacked by the immune system and the eye begins to bulge out of the eye socket,” he explains. “Or, some people may experience double vision or eyelid problems.”

Other symptoms of Graves’ disease include:

  • Poor weight gain
  • Irritability
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • High blood pressure
  • Difficulty breathing because of the enlarged thyroid gland pressing on the windpipe

Graves’ disease treatment

To treat this autoimmune disease, physicians may remove the thyroid gland, block thyroid production with medication or kill the gland with radioactive iodine, Dr. Bode says. He adds that there is currently a new drug in development that is able to block the effects of the antibodies on the thyroid gland.

Pregnancy and Graves’ disease

Graves’ disease can also impact pregnancy.

If a pregnant woman’s autoimmune system is attacking her body, it can affect the fetus’ thyroid gland, leading to serious complications. However, Dr. Bode emphasizes that it is possible to treat the condition in pregnant women.

“If a pregnant woman gets treatment, she can get her thyroid levels back to normal and gain enough weight to provide the fetus with adequate nutrition. Then, babies are usually born with normal thyroid function,” says Dr. Bode. “Mothers can typically breastfeed without a problem, but they need to speak to a specialist in thyroid disease to make sure they are using the right medications that cause no ill effects.”

While Graves’ disease is a serious health condition, there are ways to treat it. If you experience any of the symptoms mentioned, speak with your healthcare provider. He or she may recommend that you meet with a thyroid disease specialist.

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