Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes hyperthyroidism — the overproduction of thyroid hormones. When you have too many thyroid hormones, you may experience anxiety, weight loss and other symptoms.
This disease is much more common in women than in men, with a ratio of 4-to-1. “Nobody knows exactly why women are more likely to suffer from Graves’ disease,” says Ahmad Z. Sheikh, MD, FACE, ECNU, CCD, endocrinologist at Saint Francis Medical Center. “Some researchers think it is because women have more estrogen, which is thought to contribute to the immunologic reaction. But others think the X chromosome in women is what is causing the reaction.”
In addition to anxiety and weight loss, other symptoms of Graves’ disease include:
- Hand tremors
- Heat sensitivity
- Enlargement of the thyroid gland
- Change in menstrual cycles
- Heart palpitations
About 30 percent of people with the disease will experience Graves’ ophthalmopathy which is an inflammation around the eyes that can result in bulging eyes, double vision, vision loss and light sensitivity.
If left untreated, Graves’ disease can cause problems in pregnancy and lead to heart rhythm disorders. Fortunately, there are many treatments that can inhibit the production of thyroid hormones:
Antithyroid medications: These drugs cause a reaction that results in production of fewer thyroid hormones.
Radioactive iodine: Radioiodine enters the cells that produce hormones and causes them to slowly shrink.
Beta blockers: These drugs block the effect of hormones on the body.
Surgery: A surgeon can remove part or all of your thyroid gland.
“If you have been experiencing one or more symptoms of Graves’ disease, talk to your doctor,” says Sheikh. “He or she can perform a physical examination and blood test to determine your levels of the thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH).”