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Graves' Disease (Hyperthyroidism) Print E-mail
by Ron Kennedy, M.D., Santa Rosa, CA

Dr. Kennedy Graves' disease is a autoimmune disease affecting the thyroid gland. Autoimmune disorders are caused when the body's immune system, which is meant to defend the body against bacteria, viruses, and any other foreign product, malfunctions and produces antibodies against healthy tissue, cells and organs.

In Graves' disease, the autoantibodies bind to the thyroid gland to induce an increase in the production of thyroid hormone. Thyroid hormone plays a major role in metabolism, the regulation of the body's ability to utilize food as fuel.

Although both men and women can have Graves' disease, it is much more prevalent in women between the ages of 20-30. The prevalence of total patients in the United States and Europe is around 3,000,000, with 37,000 new patients per year in the United States alone. As common as it is, it is only 1/10th as common as its opposite, hypothyroidism.

The most famous people who had Graves' disease were George, Barbara, and Millie Bush, the president, first lady and first dog respectively. They all came down with the disorder in the space of one year.

Mild forms of the disease can present as nervousness, heat intolerance, diarrhea, sweating, insomnia, and weight loss, even with increased appetite. More serious complications may include irregular heart beat, tachycardia (increased heart beat), tremor and atrial fibrillation, extreme sensitivity to light, swelling in the legs and eyes, and clubbing of the fingers. The eyes may have a bulging appearance or a surprised expression. In rare extreme situations, there may be cardiovascular collapse and shock or coma.

Certain drugs are used which are directed against the thyroid gland. These "antithyroid drugs" include carbimazole, methimazole, and propylthiouracil (PTU). These drugs are used to treat hyperthyroidism in order to reduce the excessive thyroid activity before surgery and to treat and maintain patients not having surgery. Radioactive iodine is also sometimes used to destroy part of the thyroid gland to slow down the overproduciton of thyroid hormones.

The more usual treatment of Graves' disease is surgery in which enough of the thyroid is removed or destroyed to give the patient hypothyroidism which is then treated as such. In the interim, before surgery, the condition can also be managed on an temporary basis with Lugol's solution.

The information in this article is not meant to be medical advice.�Treatment for a medical condition should come at the recommendation of your personal physician.

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