Graves' Disease Treatment

  • Treatment

    Contact your doctor if you are experiencing any of the symptoms of hyperthyroidism. Untreated hyperthyroidism can lead to serious health problems, such as heartbeat abnormalities and osteoporosis.

    Your doctor is the best source of information on the drug treatment choices available to you.

    The majority of people with hyperthyroidism are treated with radioactive iodine. This treatment is administered orally. Once in the bloodstream, radioactive iodine travels to the thyroid gland, which takes up iodine readily. The radiation damages some of the thyroid tissue, shrinking the swollen gland and, in some cases, rendering it underactive. Radioactive iodine is not dangerous, is eliminated from the body via urine, and is transformed into a nonradioactive form. The treatment cures hyperthyroidism, but frequently results in permanent hypothyroidism—a disorder in which the thyroid gland that does not produce enough hormones. In such cases, thyroid hormones need to be every day for life.

    Surgically removing the thyroid gland is another way to cure hyperthyroidism. Surgery is reserved for patients with a disfiguring goiter that is not likely to be helped by other treatments. The surgical option is sometimes used by pregnant women or women who are trying to conceive. The operation is safe, although there is a small risk of injury to the glands near the thyroid (parathyroid glands) and vocal cords.

    As with the radioactive iodine treatment, the remaining thyroid tissue is not sufficient, so thyroid replacement hormones are necessary.

    Exercise, meditation, and mind-body techniques might ease some hyperthyroid symptoms, but these should not be used in place of standard medical treatment. Be sure to consult your doctor when using any additional therapies.

    If you are diagnosed with Graves' disease during a pregnancy, be sure to get your thyroid problem under control and have your baby's thyroid function evaluated. Thyroid-stimulating antibodies can cross the placenta, stimulate the baby's thyroid gland, and cause thyroid gland enlargement (goiter).

    While Graves' disease is easy to treat and responds well to therapy, people with Graves' can experience hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid gland) as a complication of treatment.

    Sometimes patients experience a crisis, or "storm," which is a severe worsening of symptoms.

    Regardless of which method is used to cure your hyperthyroidism, it is possible that you will develop an underactive thyroid gland and need to take replacement thyroid hormone. Because radioactive iodine and surgical treatment damage the thyroid gland, the chances that your gland will become underactive or inactive are high. Therefore, you should be monitored with yearly blood tests. If you produce too little thyroid hormone, your doctor will prescribe a thyroid replacement hormone preparation, which you will have to take this medication every day for the rest of your life.

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