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Graves' disease
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Graves' disease

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DIABETES AND ENDOCRINE SYSTEM

Endocrine System

Graves disease, named after Robert J. Graves, MD, circa 1830s, is an autoimmune disease characterized by hyperthyroidism due to circulating autoantibodies. Thyroid-stimulating immunoglobulins (TSIs) bind to and activate the thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) receptors, causing the thyroid gland to grow and the thyroid follicles to increase synthesis of thyroid hormone. Graves disease, along with Hashimoto thyroiditis, is classified as an autoimmune thyroid disorder. Graves' disease is the most common form of hyperthyroidism. It occurs when your immune system, which normally protects your body from bacteria and viruses, mistakenly attacks your thyroid gland and causes it to overproduce the thyroid hormone, thyroxine. This autoimmune response can also affect the tissue behind your eyes (Graves' ophthalmopathy) and the skin on your lower legs and feet (Graves' dermopathy).

When you have too much thyroid hormone in your system, your body's metabolism rate can increase by 60 percent to 100 percent, because thyroxine regulates your cells' metabolism. A higher metabolism can lead to a number of health problems, such as an irregular heartbeat or anxiety.

Graves' disease is rarely life-threatening. Although it may develop at any age and in either men or women, Graves' disease is far more common in women and usually begins between 20 and 40 years of age.

There's no way to stop your immune system from attacking the thyroid gland, but treatments can decrease the production of thyroxine.

Self-care

These steps may make your eyes feel better if you have Graves' ophthalmopathy:

  • Apply cool compresses to your eyes. The added moisture may soothe your eyes.

  • Wear sunglasses. When your eyes protrude, they're more vulnerable to ultraviolet rays and more sensitive to bright light. Wearing sunglasses that wrap around the sides of your head will lessen the irritation of your eyes from the wind.

  • Use lubricating eye drops. Eye drops may relieve the dry, scratchy sensation on the surface of your eyes. At night, a paraffin-based gel such as Lacri-Lube can be applied.

  • Elevate the head of your bed. Keeping your head higher than the rest of your body lessens fluid accumulation in the head and may relieve the pressure on your eyes.

To relieve swelling and reddening of the skin on your shins and on the top of your feet, use over-the-counter creams or ointments containing hydrocortisone. In addition, using compression wraps on the legs may help.

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Last Modified : 03/15/08 12:56 AM