What is Graves’ disease?
Basedow disease, more commonly known as Graves’ disease, is an autoimmune disease which affects the thyroid. It is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism (in 80% of cases), or in other words, the excessive production of hormones by the thyroid glands.
Graves’ disease affects nearly 1% of the population of which the vast majority are female (6 women to one man on average). It especially affects people aged between 20 and 50 years old.
Symptoms of Graves’ disease
Graves’ disease presents symptoms of hyperthyroidism as well as clinical signs and characteristics.
Hyperthyroidism can be identified through the appearance of a swollen neck, weight loss and a high heart rate, hair loss, nervous hyperactivity or frequently excreting faeces.
The thing that allows doctors to often differentiate between Graves’ disease and other thyroid illnesses is a patient’s bulging eyes known as exophthalmos. It is commonly bilateral (this means it affects both eyes) and can progress rapidly or slowly.
Causes of Graves’ disease
Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disease. It is therefore an illness which appears due to the immune system. It produces unusual antibodies which will fight the disease by targeting the thyroid gland and stimulating the release of thyroid hormones. At the same time, these antibodies suppress the TSH pituitary gland from regulating hormones.
Several things can cause Graves’ disease. Genetic factors (inherited from family members) or environmental factors can play a part in the disease occurring. In the same respect, hormonal changes can have an impact. This is especially relevant in cases of pregnancy, menopause and puberty.
In some cases, emotional or psychological shock can explain the onset of Graves’ disease.
Treating Graves’ disease
Treating Graves’ disease heavily relies on anti-thyroid prescription medications such as carbimazole which can be taken for a period of 12 to 18 months. This course of medication can limit the production of thyroid hormones in the blood in order to regulate them to a normal level. This treatment is often combined with hormone synthesis to avoid hypothyroidism.
Surgical treatments may also be required. This involves removing the thyroid when the glands are extremely swollen. Another method, which is said to be quite extreme, can be carried out: consuming radioactive iodine. This is administered in capsule form for several weeks.