What Is Graves’ Disease?

Graves Disease

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  • Graves’ disease is usually characterized by the onset of hyperthyroidism and protruding eyeballs
  • While Graves’ is not characterized as a fatal disease, it can still lead to numerous debilitating complications if left untreated

About 12 percent of the U.S. population is affected by some kind of thyroid condition, with 60 percent unaware of it. One of these thyroid conditions is Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disease that causes hyperthyroidism. This thyroid disorder affects about 1 in 200 people in the United States.1

What Is an Autoimmune Disease?

Autoimmune diseases are among the leading causes of death in America, and affect approximately 23.5 million Americans. The immune system serves as the filter for the body, tracking down foreign bodies that may harm the natural flow of bodily processes.

But when the immune system loses the ability to differentiate between healthy cells from disease-causing particles in the body, it starts to produce autoimmune cells. The immune system then signals the body to attack its own healthy cells by mistake.2

There are numerous autoimmune diseases that target different parts of the body, and some of them, like Graves’ disease, specifically attack the thyroid gland.

How Does Graves’ Disease Affect the Body?

Graves’ disease is usually characterized by the onset of hyperthyroidism and protruding eyeballs. If you are affected by Graves’ disease, your immune system begins to create antibodies that target the thyroid gland.

These antibodies are called the thyroid-stimulating immunoglobulins (TSIs). TSIs bind to your thyroid cell receptors, tricking the thyroid into producing more thyroxine than what the body normally needs.3

While the cause of autoimmune diseases may not be entirely clear, Graves’ disease may be triggered by a mix of environmental and hereditary factors.4

Possible Complications From Graves’ Disease

While Graves’ is not characterized as a fatal disease, it can still lead to numerous debilitating complications if left untreated, such as:

Thyroid storm is a very rare but extremely life-threatening condition where the function of various organs in the body becomes compromised. If untreated, patients who’ve developed thyroid storm have 50 to 90 percent mortality rate.

The excessive amounts of thyroid hormones in the blood can lead to the alteration of the body’s thermoregulation, cardiovascular, immune and nervous function, and eventually to multi-organ decompensation. To get an early diagnosis, it is important that you are familiar with the symptoms of thyroid storm:5

High fever. The patient typically has a temperature that’s above 101.3 degrees Fahrenheit, and may go over 105.8 degrees F.

Tachycardia. Because of the increased activity of the nervous system, the cardiovascular system is forced to work overtime. This causes the heart to beat at a faster rate, sometimes even exceeding 140 beats per minute. Tachycardia may also be accompanied by dysrhythmias, or abnormal and irregular heartbeat.

Changes in mental status. Patients may exhibit restlessness, agitation and confusion. Without proper treatment, it may eventually lead to delirium and coma.

Vomiting and diarrhea. Accelerated intestinal transport and decreased absorption in the gut may lead to various digestive tract issues in the onset of this condition.

Heart problems may also arise from Graves’ disease. Because of the high amount of thyrozine in the blood, the heart is overstimulated. This causes a faster and a stronger heartbeat, which may then cause atrial fibrillation, the most common form of arrhythmia.

Atrial fibrillation is actually hard to diagnose because it shares the same symptoms with a handful of heart disorders. When a person has this condition, the heart starts to beat in an irregular manner and cause the blood to pool and form clots, which may then cause strokes and death.6

Untreated Graves’ can also lead to brittle bones, miscarriages, infertility7 and psychosis8 because of the strong effect of the thyroid hormone on the various organs of the body.

MORE ABOUT GRAVES' DISEASE

Graves' Disease: Introduction

What Is Graves' Disease?

Graves' Disease Symptoms

Graves' Disease Causes

Graves' Disease Treatment

Graves' Disease Diet

Graves' Disease FAQ

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