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Graves’ disease

Your thyroid produces important hormones that regulate how your body functions. We’re here to keep it working properly, so you can feel your best.

What is the thyroid?

Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located at the front of your throat that produces important hormones. These hormones travel all over your body to regulate functions including your heart rate, breathing, muscle strength, body temperature, body weight, cholesterol and your central nervous system.

Thyroid hormone levels are controlled by a feedback loop between the thyroid and two glands in your brain called the hypothalamus and the pituitary. The hypothalamus and pituitary monitor levels of thyroid hormones in the blood and tell your thyroid to make more or less of them. The two key thyroid hormones that regulate the way your body uses energy are:

  • Thyroxine, also known as T4
  • Triiodothyronine, known as T3

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Our specialists are trained in thyroid care. Schedule a consultation today.

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What is Graves’ disease?

Graves’ disease is a common autoimmune condition that causes hyperthyroidism, a condition that occurs when your thyroid produces too many hormones.

Graves’ disease causes the body’s immune system to mistakenly attack its own healthy thyroid gland, producing antibodies that attach to the surface of thyroid cells. These cells are stimulated and overproduce thyroid hormones.

Symptoms of Graves’ disease can include:

  • Sensitivity to heat
  • Heart palpitations
  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Unexpected weight loss
  • Shaky hands
  • Bulging eyes

Risk factors for Graves’ disease

There are certain behaviors, genetics and risk factors that can increase your chances of developing Graves’ disease, including:

  • Family history: If you have a family member who has been diagnosed with a thyroid condition, such as Graves’ disease or Hashimoto’s, you have a greater risk for developing Graves’ disease.
  • Being female: Women are more likely to develop Graves’ disease.
  • Age: The risk of developing Graves’ disease increases with age, most often affecting those age 60 and older.
  • Other risk factors: Other risk factors that can increase the risk of developing Graves’ disease include:
    • Pregnancy
    • Previous thyroid surgery
    • A low-iodine diet
    • History of an autoimmune condition or conditions

Diagnosing Graves’ disease

Our endocrinology specialists are experienced in diagnosing and treating all kinds of thyroid-related conditions, including Graves’ disease.

Some of the diagnostic tests your doctor may perform to test for Graves’ disease include:

  • Blood tests: Your doctor may start by ordering bloodwork to evaluate your thyroid function and help diagnose any underlying thyroid conditions. A typical thyroid panel includes measuring your levels of TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone), free T3 and T4, reverse T3 and T4, and thyroid peroxidase antibodies (TPO).

  • Radioactive iodine uptake test: This test takes place over the course of 24 hours. On the first day, you’ll be given a pill that contains a small dose of radioactive iodine. Twenty-four hours later, you’ll take another pill. Your doctor will then measure the amount of iodine that goes into your thyroid using a special device that shows whether your thyroid is working properly.

  • Thyroid ultrasound: An ultrasound takes an image of your thyroid and throat area using sound waves. Your healthcare provider will review these images to look for any concerning issues.

  • Imaging tests: Diagnostic imaging tests, such MRIs, CT scans and PET scans, are used to produce detailed pictures of your thyroid gland and throat area.

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Treating Graves’ disease

Depending on the type and severity of your condition, one or more of the following treatments may be recommended. 
Lifestyle changes

You can make several lifestyle changes that your doctor may suggest to help manage your symptoms. These may include:

  • Increasing sleep
  • Exercise
  • Change in diet
  • Reducing stress
  • Emotional support

Your doctor may recommend prescription medications to help manage your symptoms and treat Graves’ disease. This may include medications to regulate the amount of hormones your thyroid produces.
Radioactive iodine

Your doctor may recommend a radioactive iodine treatment to help shrink your thyroid gland.

The latest techniques, including minimally invasive surgery, might be right for treating Graves’ disease to offer you the best outcomes and path for healing. You can rest assured that your team of specialized surgeons have the skill and level of training they need to perform thyroid-related surgeries.

Thyroid care at Geisinger

Our endocrinology team is here to provide you with compassionate care and the most advanced available. We offer:

  • The knowledge you need – Your care team is powered by endocrinologists, surgeons, doctors and specialists with years of training and experience. Their expertise has been honed by treating many people with thyroid issues every year. And their focus is on delivering the care best suited to your needs.

  • Care designed for you, where you live – With locations throughout northeast, central and south-central Pennsylvania, our experienced team provides consultations and comprehensive care. We offer leading-edge treatment options and tailored-to-you care, backed by the expertise and innovation of a nationally recognized health system. 

  • Comprehensive specialty care – Our endocrine specialists are dedicated to offering innovative treatment options and personalized care in convenient locations, so you don’t have to travel far. We’ll work with you to develop a personalized care plan based on your individual needs.

  • Genetic testing and counseling programs – Special research programs such as MyCode® are only available at Geisinger. Participating in MyCode allows you to contribute to genetic research. By participating, some may receive information about their own genetic risks. Learn about MyCode.