Graves' disease is an autoimmune condition that affects the thyroid. The thyroid tissue becomes enlarged and overactive as a result of being attacked by antibodies from our own immune system.
It affects roughly 1% of the population, although it affect women about 5-10 times more often than men, meaning that for women prevalence is nearly 2%. There is a correlation between Grave's disease and the development of type 1 diabetes, which underscores the autoimmune nature of this disease. Basically in both disease antibodies attack glandular tissues. In type 1 diabetes antibodies have attacked your pancreas, whereas in Grave's disease antibodies attack your thyroid.
Signs & Symptoms
Graves' disease is often accompanied by an enlargement of the thyroid gland, which is situated around your windpipe. This is called goitre.
- Rapid heart rate and shortness of breath
- Bulging eyes, dry and irritated eyes and difficulty focusing
- Anxiety and shakiness
- Feeling hot and sweaty
- Weight loss
Diet is not such an effective intervention with Grave's disease (hyper-thyroidism) as with hypo-thyroidism. In essence what is being sought is a way of reducing the amount of antibodies being produced that mimic the effect of TSH - thyroid stimulating hormone.
Graves is often treated using drugs such as the imazoles [methimazole and carbimazole] as well as PTU - propylthiouracil.
Surgery and radiation therapy
Surgery is effective in about 90% of cases, however it can often lead to hypothyroidism, which can make it seem a pointless exercise. A similar procedure to surgery is radioactive ablation therapy, which basically destroys the thyroid using radiation. Many people with Graves are reluctant to pursue these routes that destroy their thyroid unless it is absolutely neccessary.