Graves’ disease is a type of autoimmune disease that causes overproduction of thyroid hormones called thyroxines. Females, especially the ones aged 20 to 40 have been found to be more susceptible to this as compared to males.
This autoimmune disease is the most common cause of Hyperthyroidism. The overproduction of thyroid hormones due to an overactive thyroid gland affects other vital bodily functions like breathing, brain development, metabolism, cholesterol levels, menstrual cycles, skin dryness, heart functions, weight etc. Graves’ disease is also known as Diffuse Toxic Goiter.
This disease is characterized by abnormal functioning of the immune system that produces more auto antibodies. These antibodies, in turn stimulate the thyroid gland thereby leading to an increased production of thyroid hormones.
The exact cause of this abnormal reaction of the immune system is not known. It is often linked with hereditary factors. Factors like smoking, pregnancy and mental stress may also increase the chances of developing this disease.
Symptoms and Diagnosis of Graves’ disease
Graves’ disease is characterized by symptoms like weight loss, goitre, frequent bowel movements, increased sensitivity to heat, increased sweating, rapid heart beat, restlessness, tremor, muscle weakness, changes in menstrual cycle, recurrent miscarriages, brittle hair, insomnia, moodiness, irritability, and a general feeling of fatigue.
Apart from the usual symptoms of hyperthyroidism, Graves’ disease is specifically associated with swelling or bulging of the eyes (Exophthalmos), particularly in case of smokers. The symptoms related to inflammation of the tissues around the eyes include problems like blurred vision, double vision, limited eye movement, redness and itchiness in the eyes etc.
In rare cases, Graves’ disease may also cause Pretibial Myxedema or Dermopathy characterized by thickening of the skin in front of the shins.
The diagnosis of Graves’ disease is usually done through blood tests determining the level of Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH). Low levels of TSH and high levels of thyroxine usually indicate the presence of this disease. The method of radioactive iodine uptake also determines the presence of this disease.
In this method, the patient is given a small amount of radioactive iodine to determine the activity of the thyroid gland. A high level of the uptake of this radioactive iodine points towards the presence of Graves’ disease.