6. Some people have more severe symptoms, like eye protrusion and neck swelling.
Sometimes people with Graves’ disease can have protruding eyes, called exophthalmos; goiter, which is an enlargement of the neck that can cause coughing and make swallowing difficult; and a reddening of the skin on the feet or shins, which is relatively rare and called pretibial myxedema.
7. Although it can be serious, it’s also very treatable.
In 2010, Sia tweeted about radiation treatment for the condition. This is one of the most common treatments for Graves’, but there are others.
Most often people start by taking anti-thyroid medications, “which control the thyroid overactivity, but don’t cure the disease, in that when the medication is stopped most people revert to hyperthyroidism,” says Smith.
The “definitive therapies,” including radioactive iodine ablation or surgical thyroidectomy, involve removing or shrinking overactive tissue, Smith said.
For example, in radioactive iodine therapy, patients are treated with radiation-tagged iodine molecules, which selectively target and kill overactive cells in the thyroid.
8. And getting treatment is really important.
In rare cases, untreated Graves’ disease can trigger a potentially life-threatening situation called a thyroid storm, also known as thyrotoxicosis, which can lead to organ failure. “Lots of untoward things can happen to people who are severely, what we call, thyrotoxic,” says Smith.
But usually people get treatment long before something like that could happen.
“Luckily most people with Graves’ disease are diagnosed and treated effectively and are never in danger of anything more serious than needing to take medication or undergoing definitive therapy,” Smith says. But in rare instances where people skip medication or don’t have access to good medical care, the thyroid overactivity can cause serious heart issues, Smith says.
9. A blood test can catch thyroid problems before you even have symptoms.
No one is really sure what causes Graves’ disease, although it can run in families. People who may be at higher risk are smokers, people with other autoimmune conditions, and people who are pregnant, have been pregnant, or are under physical or emotional stress.
Smith says that he often recommends that women get a blood test to check for thyroid problems — a relatively inexpensive test that’s especially important if you have a family history of the disease. “I recommend that every year or so they undergo what we call a TSH blood test, which can be very revealing and can identify the diagnosis even before there are any symptoms,” he says. TSH stands for thyroid-stimulating hormone.
“It’s one of the more cost-effective ways of screening a large population for not only thyroid overactivity but underactivity,” Smith says.
While a blood test won’t prevent Graves’ disease, it can detect the problem more quickly and lead to earlier treatment.