Graves' Disease was named after Sir Robert Graves, who described the condition during the early part of 19th century.
Graves' disease is one of the most common thyroid problems that is also the leading cause of hyperthyroidism. Hyperthyroidism refers to the excessive production of hormones by the thyroid gland. If treated immediately, a person can recover easily from this ailment. But if left untreated, it can lead to serious complications or even death.
The thyroid gland secretes hormones that control metabolism, the process of converting food into energy. When the thyroid gland produces excess hormones, metabolism speeds up and causes the heart to pound and the body to sweat, tremble, and drop weight rapidly.
The release of these hormones is signaled by a chemical called thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). The TSH comes from the pituitary gland located in the brain. A person inflicted with Graves' disease has an impaired immune system that releases antibodies that mimic TSH. These false signals work up the metabolism abnormally.
It's not known why the immune system products these TSH-mimicking antibodies.
But some point out that family history and inborn characteristics may play a role.
Some experts also believe that Graves' disease may be triggered by environmental factors such as stress, for example.
If you have or you think you have Graves' disease, it's imperative to go to the doctor to get proper diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible. The treatment plan to be implemented by your doctor will focus on restoring the hormone levels produced by the thyroid.
Conventional medications used for the treatment involve hindering the ability of the gland to produce hormones.
1) Radioactive Iodine
One frequently used approach is making use of a strong dosage of radioactive iodine that can destroy the cells in the thyroid gland. This procedure is designed to stop the excessive manufacture of the hormones.
To do this effectively, the size of the thyroid will be determined through physical exam or ultrasound. The level of activity of the gland will also be measured. The amount of radioactive iodine that will be used will be based on these findings.
This treatment method has a destructive effect on the cells of the thyroid but it will not harm any surrounding tissue or organ.
2) Antithyroid Drugs
Another method of treatment is the use of antithyroid drugs like propylthiouracil and methimazole (Tapazole). These medicines interfere with the gland's hormone production. After the start of the treatment, it will take about a few months for the symptoms to tone down. Once the excess hormones are removed, the hormone production will be restored to normal level.
3) Subtotal Thyroidectomy
Both treatments mentioned above are effective. However, there are cases when surgery is the best recourse. For example, if you develop the disease before or during pregnancy or if you are allergic to antithyroid drugs, your doctor may recommend surgical removal of most of the thyroid gland, in a procedure called subtotal thyroidectomy. This is a simple, safe, and effective way to treat Graves' disease.