What is Graves' Disease?
Graves' disease is an autoimmune disease that causes circulating antibodies to over-stimulate the thyroid gland, leading to its enlargement and the production of excess thyroid hormone.
It is the most common form of hyperthyroidism and many parts of the body such as eyes, skin, hair, nails, lungs, muscles, nervous system, digestive and reproductive systems, can be affected. Graves' disease symptoms such as weight loss, rapid heart beat and anxiety can occur when there are high levels of thyroid hormones and can cause numerous health problems.
Graves' disease affects about five in every 10,000 people in the United States. It is more common in women between the ages of 20 and 40, but does occur in infants, children and the elderly. Graves' disease information is sometimes contradictory. Although this disorder has a hereditary component, physical trauma, weight reduction and viral illnesses are also associated with Graves' Disease. Your physician will be able to better provide you with the most accurate Graves' disease information.
Diagnosing Graves' Disease
Graves' disease symptoms vary so the following procedures are used to diagnose Graves' disease:
- Physical Examination - If your doctor suspects that you have Graves' disease, a thorough physical examination and medical history will be able to confirm the diagnosis.
- Blood Test - A simple blood test will measure your thyroid hormone levels, thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) and thyroxine (thyroid hormone). Low levels of TSH and high levels of thyroxine may indicate Graves' Disease.
- Radioactive Iodine Uptake - The body needs iodine to produce thyroxine. A radioactive scan or image will determine if the thyroid is making too much or too little thyroxine. A high uptake of radioactive iodine indicates that your thyroid gland is producing too much thyroxine, which is consistent with Graves' disease.
Symptoms of Graves' Disease
Graves' disease symptoms include:
- Enlarged thyroid gland (goiter)
- Weight loss
- Enlarged bulging eyes (exophthalmos)
- Double vision
- Menstrual irregularities
- Eye irritation
- Intolerance to hot weather
- Excessive sweating
- Muscle weakness
- Rapid pulse
- Loss of body fat
- Hot, moist skin
- Frequent bowel movements or diarrhea
What is Graves' Ophthalmopathy?
Graves' ophthalmopathy or exophthalmos is also known as thyroid eye disease or thyroid-associated ophthalmopathy. It is closely associated with Graves' disease. Graves' ophthalmopathy (GO) is a condition that affects the muscles of the eye that rotate the eyeball up, down and to the sides.
The eyes, which bulge from their sockets are red and watery and the lids are swollen. Graves' ophthalmopathy causes the eyes to move abnormally because the swollen eye muscles are unable to work precisely. Graves' ophthalmopathy and Graves' disease are two separate conditions that run independently of each other.
GO may occur long before, at the same time as, or long after thyroid disease is diagnosed and treated. Although most patients with Graves' disease have Graves' ophthalmopathy, about 10% of patients with GO have normal thyroid function.
Symptoms and signs of Graves' ophthalmopathy
Symptoms of Graves' ophthalmopathy may vary. It is fairly common to display symptoms of redness and irritation. Inflammation, however, can cause permanent damage. Other symptoms include:
- Double vision
- Dryness of the eye
- Eye muscle weakness
- Excessive tearing
- Protrusion of the eyes
- Increased intraocular pressure
- Light sensitivity
- Swelling of the eyelids
- Upper and lower eyelid retraction
What is Graves' Dermopathy?
Graves' dermopathy, or pretibial myxedema, is a rare skin disorder associated with Graves’ disease. It is characterized by red, swollen skin, often on your shins and on the top of your feet.
The texture of the affected area looks like orange peel. In the early stages it can be quite itchy but in time it becomes less itchy and uncomfortable over time. It does not itch or cause any discomfort, unless a larger area of skin is affected.
Although it usually resolves spontaneously over a period of months to years, treatment includes addressing the underlying thyroid problem, topical creams and compression with elastic wraps.
What Causes Graves' Disease?
Graves' disease is caused by a malfunctioning of the immune system. Antibodies that usually protect the body against infections, viruses and bacteria, attack the thyroid gland.
The thyroid gland, in turn, produces excess thyroid hormone. It is not known what causes the immune system to attack the thyroid gland. A combination of factors such as heredity, sex, age, stress, smoking, and radiation have been implicated as possible triggers for Graves’ disease.
Help for Graves' Disease
Various treatments can restore normal levels of thyroid hormone and alleviate symptoms. Your choice of treatment will depend on your age, overall condition, and the size of your thyroid gland.
Conventional and alternative approaches to treating this disease should be investigated and discussed with your medical practitioner. If Graves' disease is left untreated, there could be serious implications.
Conventional treatments include anti-thyroid drugs, beta-blockers, radioactive iodine, and surgery. The problem with radical thyroid treatment such as surgery is that it puts the thyroid out of action permanently. This necessitates lifelong prescriptions of synthetic or animal derived thyroid hormone. Hypothyroid symptoms are often the result.
It is important to note that alternative and natural treatments are available - without the risk of side effects. Because we are more than just our symptoms, natural remedies can assist and promote health on a broader scale, addressing diet, lifestyle, and stress-management, and thereby providing all round support.
Natural Treatment for Graves' Disease
Natural cures for Graves' disease address the cause of the problem rather than just addressing the symptoms. The individual with Graves' disease has to be treated uniquely – symptoms and responses to treatment vary from person to person. A number of alternative and natural therapies can be used to help reduce symptoms including:
- Energy healing
A combination of certain herbal and homeopathic ingredients such as Bugleweed (Lycopus virginica), Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), Stephania root (Stephania tetranda), andMotherwort (Leonurus cardica) has been used as natural cures for Graves' disease to help minimize the unpleasant symptoms associated with Graves' disease and hyperthyroidism.
Dietary changes and stress reduction are steps that should be included in your path to wellness. Consulting a health practitioner, homeopath or naturopath will help you to make an informed decision.
More Information on Graves' Disease
Tips for Coping with Graves' Disease
Living with Graves' disease can be challenging and Graves' disease information is sometimes hard to interpret. Here are some helpful tips to help you better manage this condition:
- Eat a diet containing adequate (but not too much) iodine (e.g. Fish) Avoid food with added iodine (salt) as well as too much food containing seaweed (e.g. sushi)
- Eat plenty of raw cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and broccoli which all contain natural thyroid blockers.
- Try to get as much rest as possible
- Begin an exercise program
- Establish open communication channels with health professionals
- Include essential fatty acids in your diet like flax seed oil and omega-3 to help reduce inflammatory responses
- Have regular screenings for hyperthyroidism if there is someone in your immediate family with this disease or you have another autoimmune disease
- Essential oils that may have a calming effect include Bergamot, Clary sage, Lavender and Roman Chamomile
- Manage your stress as it is one of the triggers of hyperthyroidism – try meditating, practicing tai chi, yoga or prayer therapy
- Identify and maintain emotional support systems