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Everything You Need to Know About Graves’ Disease

Graves’ disease is an autoimmune condition. Even though we may not hear about this condition a lot, there are a few things you should know.

What Exactly is Graves’ and Is It Curable:

Graves’ is an autoimmune condition that affects the thyroid, a butterfly-shaped gland that is in the neck. The thyroid is a part of the endocrine system. With Graves’ disease, the thyroid becomes hyperactive. It’s important for the thyroid gland to work optimally because this gland secretes hormones that are responsible for the regulation of different functions throughout the body. These functions include breathing, heart rate, and body weight, among other things. Since Graves’ is an autoimmune condition it cannot be cured; however, there are treatment options that can keep thyroid gland healthy and functioning normally.

What Causes Graves' Disease to Flare Up?

A thyroid storm is a rare, but life threatening flare-up that can occur as a result of several conditions—one of which is Graves’ disease. A thyroid storm happens when an overactive thyroid gland has been ignored or undertreated. This can result from thyroid surgery, abruptly stopping thyroid-related medications, trauma, or acute illness such as heart failure or stroke. Since a thyroid storm can impact your heart rate, blood pressure, and neurological system, it is best to routinely check the state of your thyroid and get appropriate medical treatment from your healthcare provider.  

Signs and Symptoms:

Anyone, at any age, can get Graves’ disease, but people between the ages thirty and fifty are impacted the most. Also, Graves’ disease affects women more than men. As a matter of fact, according to the American Thyroid Association Grave’s disease is seven to eight times more common in women than men. Since the thyroid is involved in so many functions of the body, there are various signs and symptoms to be aware of. Here are some of them:

  • Weight loss
  • Changes in menstrual cycle
  • Goiter (enlargement of the thyroid gland)
  • Bulging eyes
  • Fatigue
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Sleep disturbance

Treatment:

Your healthcare provider may enlist a variety of treatment options. These can range from treating the signs and symptoms to attacking the disease itself. For instance, since Graves’ disease impacts the heart, your healthcare provider may want to prescribe you a medication that can help alleviate rapid or irregular heart rates. Other medications may also be utilized to treat other symptoms that can arise because of Graves’ disease. On the other hand, other measures, such as radioiodine therapy and thyroid surgery, are treatment options that address the overall disease. 

Diet:

As a best practice, talk to your healthcare provider or personal dietitian. They can help you determine what foods you should and should not be eating when dealing with Graves’ disease. But a good place to start is limiting foods that are considered to be loaded with iodine. A high iodine intake can make hyperthyroidism (a hyperactive thyroid) worse. Foods that should be limited because of their high levels of iodine include:

  • Iodized salt, commonly known as “table salt”
  • Seafood and shellfish, such as cod, shrimp and oysters 
  • Seaweed, such as what is found in sushi bowls and miso soups (also anything containing nori) 
  • Dairy products, such as non-fat milk and greek yogurt (note that the amount of iodine varies by food and the equipment a food is manufactured on)

Foods that are naturally low in iodine include:

  • Fresh or frozen fruits, such as apples, pears, and melons
  • Fresh or frozen vegetables (without salt), such as broccoli, cauliflower, corn and carrots
  • Grains such as rice and enriched pasta
  • Dried beans
  • Fresh cuts of meat, such as chicken and beef
  • Natural herbs and spices, such as onion, garlic, dill, pepper, and basil

The Bottom Line:

If you have Graves’ disease, the first and most important thing is to adhere to the healthcare plan designed specifically for you by your doctor and dietitian. Eating an iodine-free diet can be difficult, especially if it is hard to find salt that contains zero iodine. However, using fresh aromatics and herbs—such as lemon, pepper, thyme, smoked paprika, onion, basil, oregano and others—when seasoning foods can add a dash of flavor. These (and more) can be helpful and tasty cooking alternatives to salt if you (or a loved one) have to watch iodine intake. 

 

References:

  1. https://www.thyroid.org/graves-disease/

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