Decoding the Symptoms of Graves’ Disease: A Beginner’s Guide

Graves’ disease is named after an Irish physician called Robert Graves. He was the first one who described the condition in 1835. It’s an autoimmune disorder that leads to thyroid gland overactivity or hyperthyroidism. This disease affects nearly 1 in 200 people. It typically occurs between the ages of 20 and 40, and it’s found to be most common in women than men. 

This disease is caused by the production of antibodies that stimulate the thyroid gland to produce more than the average thyroid hormone. As a result, numerous body functions would speed up. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, the cause of Graves’ disease led to about 4 out of 5 hyperthyroidism cases in the United States. Therefore, even if you’re not a U.S. citizen, it’s important to know the symptoms of this condition, as it can affect anyone.

Enlarged thyroid gland (goiter)

Patients with this condition often have enlargement of the thyroid gland and become hyperthyroid, according to the University of Michigan Health. If you have this condition, you may notice your eyes becoming more prominent, a general irritation in the eyes, double vision, the eyelids not closing properly, and increased tear production. 

Sometimes, this can cause difficulty or discomfort in breathing or swallowing. But it’s important to note that an enlarged thyroid gland can also be caused by other non-thyroid-related factors or other thyroid conditions, and not all people can develop a goiter when they have Graves’ disease. It’s essential to see a healthcare professional for evaluation and diagnosis if you notice any symptoms of the condition or enlargement in your neck.

Changes in menstrual periods in women

Your thyroid hormone can affect your menstrual cycle. Which is why you may experience problems with your menstrual period when you have Graves’ disease. Too much thyroid hormone can make your periods lighter and cause irregular menstrual periods. 

Hyperthyroidism can disrupt the average hormonal balance in the body. You can even experience short or longer menstrual cycles and even missed periods. As a result, these changes can occur along with other disease symptoms, such as tremors, weight loss, and anxiety. 

Rapid and irregular heartbeat (palpitations)

Due to too much thyroid hormone in your body, heart problems can occur, such as congestive heart failure, irregular heart rate, and fast heart rate. Some researchers suggest that there should be an increased focus on patients with raised thyroid function in terms of atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat rhythm). 

Graves’ disease, which causes hyperthyroidism, can cause the heart to beat faster and harder than normal since it increases the body’s metabolic rate. As a result, there may be a sensation of irregular, pounding, and racing heartbeat accompanied by other symptoms such as shortness of breath, anxiety, and sweating. It’s important to seek medical help since you’re experiencing more severe heart problems due to palpitation. 

Muscle weakness or fatigue

This common symptom of Graves’ disease increases the body’s metabolic rate, which can result in muscle weakness or fatigue. This is because the cause of the overactive thyroid gland will be difficult for the muscles to keep up with the increased demand for energy. In relation, thyrotoxic myopathy is a neuromuscular disorder that may accompany hyperthyroidism. Some of its symptoms include heat intolerance, fatigue, muscle weakness, and muscle tenderness (myalgias).

This condition may be associated with acute muscle breakdown, periodic paralysis, and damage to the muscles that control eye movement. In addition, people with Graves’ disease may also experience difficulty in physical activity, general tiredness, and lethargy. 

Difficulty sleeping or insomnia

According to the Sleep Foundation, hyperthyroidism can cause difficulty sleeping due to constant feelings of tiredness, muscle weakness, and arousal from nervousness or irritability. Night sweats and frequent urination urges can occur due to an overactive thyroid since they can both disrupt sleep. 

Hyperthyroidism can also lead to the irrepressible need to sleep or lapses into sleep or hypersomnia that can happen daily. Hypersomnia can occur when you have an underlying mental disorder. Moreover, due to a condition in the endocrine system, hypothyroidism is considered the leading cause of hypersomnia. Untreated hypothyroidism can cause excessively shallow or slow breathing primarily during sleep or sleep-related hypoventilation.

Anxiety and irritability 

It’s possible that thyroid disease can affect your mood. Anxiety or depression are often caused by common symptoms of thyroid disease. The more severe the mood changes, the more severe the thyroid disease. Hyperthyroidism or an overactive thyroid and its mood symptoms can include irritability, anxiety, and nervousness. 

People with Graves’ disease may feel excessively worried, experience panic attacks, and can even have racing thoughts. You may find it difficulty to maintain a positive outlook or cope with stress since the overactive thyroid gland can cause changes in mood and behavior. However, it’s unusual for the symptoms that were mentioned above to be the only evidence of thyroid disease despite thyroid disease affecting moods. 

Heat intolerance and increased sweating

A person suffering from hypothyroidism may struggle to keep themselves warm since hypothyroidism may cause excessive sweating and heat sensitivity. When properly working, the body’s thyroid cells can produce 35% heart and 65% energy. But those with a thyroid condition can either produce less or too much thyroxine.

As a result, changes in hormone levels will confuse the body into producing not enough energy or too much heat. Moreover, people with Graves’ disease may also experience a warm sensation in the body or flushing of the skin. These symptoms can interfere with daily activities and can make you feel uncomfortable. 

Tremors or shaking of the hands

When the dose of thyroxine becomes too high, shaking hands can appear even in patients with low thyroid function. This can also be an indicator to titrate the dose (the dose should be reduced if an increase in the dose of thyroxine makes the hands start shaking). These tremors may be felt as a sensation of quivering or shaking and can also be visible.

Additionally, these tremors may be more noticeable in activities such as performing fine motor tasks, writing, and holding objects. Rapid heartbeat, anxiety, and other symptoms of Graves’ disease can also contribute to tremors. If you’re experiencing tremors, it’s important to seek help from a medical professional for diagnosis and treatment.

Increased bowel movements or diarrhea

More frequent bowel movements are one of the most overlooked signs of an overactive thyroid. An overactive thyroid speeds up digestion and other bodily systems. So you can notice more diarrhea and frequent bowel movements. 

When you experience loose stools or diarrhea, it may be watery and occur multiple times daily. This can be an inconvenient and frustrating symptom that can cause intervention in daily activities. If these bowel movements continue, seeing your doctor for appropriate diagnosis and treatment may be best.

Weight loss despite increased appetite 

People who have Graves’ disease often experience unexplained weight loss. If left untreated, weight loss can lead to severe problems such as malnutrition. Iodine is used by the thyroid to make thyroid hormones like T3 and T4 to regulate how energy is being utilized in the body. Many of your bodily processes are accelerated due to overstimulation of the thyroid if you have Graves’ disease.

As a result, the body burns more energy while at rest when there’s an increase in your basal metabolism. But the additional food consumption is still not enough to compensate for the increased energy expenditure to cause weight loss despite people with the disease having a larger appetite. The body continues to crush fuel at a speedy rate, more than it can recharge it. 


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