Grave's Disease: Overactive Thyroid

If your hands shake, you feel jittery and have lost weight recently, and your eyes appear to be popping forward, you could have a disease that makes your thyroid overactive, called Grave's disease.

If you do not get treatment immediately, you can suffer many side effects including osteoporosis in which your bones turn to chalk and break with the slightest trauma, and irregular heart beats. There are three treatments. You could take chemicals to damage your thyroid, but they only control this condition; they do not cure it and they can poison other tissues in your body. You can have a surgeon cut out your thyroid, but that is very expensive and in inexperienced hands, can cause calcium abnormalities that cause cramping and loss of your ability to speak. Or you can swallow a drink containing radioactive iodine, which goes to your thyroid and destroys it.

A study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that radioactive iodine may be the safest treatment for an overactive thyroid, and it does not increase risk for cancer deaths, the main concern of taking radioactive treatments. None of these treatments will stop your eyes from bulging forward. The only effective treatment is to irradiate the fat pads behind the eyes.

JAMA, July 21, 1998

Checked 3/9/08

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