What is Graves’ disease?
Grave's disease is a common cause of overactive thyroid or hyperthyroidism, and is named after the doctor who discovered the condition.
Hyperthyroidism is caused by the thyroid gland in the neck producing too many hormones.
Symptoms of a Graves' disease include bulging eyes, being nervous, anxious, hyperactive, unexplained weight loss or a swelling of the thyroid gland in the throat.
Once diagnosed, Graves' disease can be treated.
In some cases, Graves’ disease goes into remission or disappears completely after several months or years.
Left untreated, however, it can lead to serious complications and can be life-threatening.
Although the symptoms can cause discomfort, Graves’ disease generally has no long-term adverse health consequences if the person receives prompt and appropriate medical care.
What causes Graves’ disease?
Hormones secreted by the thyroid gland control metabolism, or the speed at which the body converts food into energy. Metabolism is directly linked to the amount of hormones that circulate in the bloodstream. If, for some reason, the thyroid gland secretes an overabundance of these hormones, the body’s metabolism accelerates, producing the pounding heart, sweating, trembling and weight loss typically experienced by people with hyperthyroidism.
Normally, the thyroid gets its production orders through another chemical called thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), released by the pituitary gland in the brain. But in Graves’ disease, a malfunction in the body’s immune system releases abnormal antibodies that mimic TSH. Prompted by these false signals to produce, the thyroid’s hormone factories work overtime and exceed their normal quota.
Exactly why the immune system begins to produce these aberrant antibodies is unclear. Heredity and other characteristics seem to play a role in determining susceptibility. Studies show, for example, that if one identical twin develops Graves’ disease, there is a 20% likelihood that the other twin will get it, too. Also, women are more likely than men to develop the disease. Smokers are also more likely to develop the disease.
No single gene causes Graves’ disease. It is thought to be triggered by both genetics and environmental factors, such as stress.
Eye trouble -- usually in the form of inflamed and swollen eye muscles and tissues that can cause the eyeballs to protrude from their sockets -- is a distinguishing complication of Graves’ disease. However, only a small percentage of all Graves’ patients will experience this condition, known as exophthalmos. Even among those who do, the severity of their Graves’ has no bearing on the seriousness of the eye problem or how far the eyeballs protrude. In fact, it isn’t clear whether such eye complications stem from Graves’ disease itself or from a totally separate, yet closely linked, disorder. If you have developed exophthalmos, your eyes may ache and feel dry and irritated. Protruding eyeballs are prone to excessive tearing and redness, partly because the eyelids can no longer shelter them effectively from injury.