Wednesday, February 16, 2011
ROCHESTER, Minn. — Graves' disease, a disorder where the thyroid gland makes more thyroid hormone than the body needs, is five to 10 times more common in women than men. The February issue of Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource covers Graves' disease, including symptoms, diagnosis and treatment options.
Graves' disease is an autoimmune disorder where the immune system attacks the thyroid, a butterfly-shaped gland at the base of the neck. As a result, the thyroid overproduces two thyroid hormones that help regulate metabolism — essentially, how the body uses energy. With excess thyroid hormones, bodily functions can shift to overdrive. Signs and symptoms can include irritability, heart palpitations, trouble sleeping, fatigue, weight loss, sensitivity to heat, anxiety, changes in the menstrual cycle, frequent bowel movements and an enlarged thyroid gland.
Graves' disease can occur at any age, but most often starts before 40. The disease is rarely life-threatening. But without treatment, Graves' disease can lead to heart problems and weak and brittle bones. Diagnosis is based on an exam, medical history and laboratory tests.
Treatment options include:
Anti-thyroid medications: Drugs such as methimazole (Tapazole) prevent the thyroid from producing excess hormones. After treatment for one to two years, some people return to normal thyroid production and no longer need the medication.
Radioactive iodine therapy: This therapy, which is swallowed as a liquid, destroys thyroid cells so less thyroid hormones are produced. A typical result is an underactive thyroid. In that case, people must take synthetic thyroid hormones for life. This therapy is considered low-risk for most adults.
Surgery: Surgeons remove most or all of the thyroid gland. Again, synthetic hormones must be taken for life. Surgery may be recommended for people who can't tolerate anti-thyroid medications or who don't have success with radioactive iodine therapy.
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