Graves' Disease Symptoms

  • Symptoms

    An overactive thyroid gland can produce a host of symptoms that can be mistaken for other things. In fact, it is easy for people to blame weight loss, fatigue, and insomnia on stress when Graves' disease is the true culprit. Nervousness, irritability, trembling, sweating, and muscle weakness are other common symptoms of an overactive thyroid gland. In some patients, skin becomes delicate and hair falls out. In premenopausal women, menstrual flow may lighten or stop altogether. More dangerous manifestations include heart palpitations and osteoporosis, which can lead to brittle bones that break easily.

    A painless bulge in the throat (goiter) is a telltale sign of a thyroid problem.

    People with Graves' disease often have bulging, watery eyes, and may experience vision problems such as double vision or blurry vision Figure 02.

    Click to enlarge: Bulging, watery eyes characteristic of Graves' disease

    Figure 02. Bulging, watery eyes characteristic of Graves' disease

    Though rare, Graves' disease can produce a thick, red rash on the front of the shins Table 01.

    Table 1.  Symptoms of Graves' Disease

    Nervousness, irritability, anxiety
    Muscle weakness, fatigue
    Increased appetite, weight loss despite normal eating
    Sweating, shaking, heart pounding
    Hair loss or thinning
    Light or no menstrual flow
    Goiter, bulging eyes
    Vision disturbances (blurred or double vision)
    Skin rash
  • Risk Factors

    Having a family member with Graves' disease or another similar disease in which the body attacks itself (autoimmune disease) increases the risk for developing Graves' disease.

    Increased iodine intake in a person predisposed to Graves' disease seems to play a role in triggering the disease.

    Stress is thought to trigger Graves' disease in some people. Some patients report that symptoms began during or just after emotionally difficult times in their lives, such as caring for a sick family member, a divorce, losing a loved one, or severe financial problems. Research also reveals a link between elevations in stress hormones like cortisone and adrenaline and increased antibody production by the immune system.

    Women are more prone to developing all types of thyroid problems, including Graves' disease. About 2% of women in the U.S. have hyperthyroidism at some time, compared to 0.4% of men. The condition usually strikes during the middle age, but may occur earlier in life.

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