What is Graves’ disease?
Graves’ disease is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism. It is an autoimmune condition caused by the abnormal production of antibodies by the immune system.
Thyroid receptor antibodies (TRAb) bind to the TSH receptor on the surface of the pituitary gland causing it to produce TSH.
You can think of this as a ‘lock and key’ mechanism whereby the TRAb is the ‘key’ and the receptor on the surface of the cell in the pituitary is the ‘lock’.
Once the key is in the lock this ‘opens the metabolic door’ and causes the production of TSH. This then causes a rise in levels of the thyroid hormone, as the TSH stimulates the thyroid gland excessively.
Like Hashimoto’s, it is also associated with other autoimmune diseases and can run in families. Graves’ disease is 7-8 times more common in women than in men.
What symptoms are associated with Graves’ disease?
Most of the symptoms of Graves’ disease are related to overactivity of the thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism) such as:
- Increased appetite
- Sweating or feeling warm
- Weight loss
- The feeling of a racing heart or the heart thumping (also known as ‘palpitations’)
- Intolerance to heat
- Irregular periods
- Irritability or nervousness
Graves’ disease can also cause a number of problems with the eye (Graves’ ophthalmopathy), including:
- Visual loss
Treating Graves’ disease
There are several different treatment options for Graves’ disease including:
- Medications (such a beta-blockers and carbimazole)
- Radioactive iodine treatments
- Surgical removal of the entire thyroid gland