Q: What is Graves' disease, and how is it treated?
A: Graves' disease is a form of overactive thyroid which affects approximately three out of 100 people. It is an auto-immune disease, common in patients with family members affected by either hypo- or hyperthyroidism. Although it most commonly affects young women, it can occur in men as well as children. Symptoms include heart racing, heat intolerance, insomnia, unexplained anxiety, chronic diarrhea, fatigue and severe weight loss despite increased caloric intake. It also can affect eye muscles, leading to uncoordinated eye movements. If left untreated, hyperthyroidism can cause severe heart arrhythmias like atrial fibrillation, congestive heart failure and osteoporosis. It can be diagnosed through simple tests. Treatment includes oral medication that decreases the amount of thyroid hormone produced by the thyroid gland. Other treatments include radioiodine ablation or surgical removal of thyroid gland. The last two options lead to hypothyroidism, and the patient needs to take thyroxine treatments, usually for the rest of their lives.
-- Dr. Ana Cornea, endocrinologist, Diagnostic Center; member, Chattanooga-Hamilton County, Medical Society
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