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A Grave Concern for Women: July 28, 2014

Graves’ disease - it may be one of the most common diseases you’ve never heard of. For young women in particular, it can be a grave concern.

“Graves’ disease is one of the most common diseases in females. So the ratio from male to female is like 8 females to 1 male. And usually it affects young - around the age of 20,” says Dr. Heitham Ajlouni, who is an endocrinologist for Lee Memorial Health System.

An autoimmune disease the body attacks itself. In Graves’ the thyroid gland over-produces hormones that impact metabolism.

“You will start losing weight regardless of your appetite. The other thing you have is fast heartbeat. You have changes of your hair and skin. You will have heat intolerance, excess of sweating. Graves’ disease affects the eye, so their eyeball will protrude,” says Dr. Ajlouni.

Patients are quick to realize something’s wrong. If it’s not treated, the disease can have serious consequences.

“One of the most important thing it affects - the heart. When you have palpitations you are prone to something called arrhythmias. And this is life-threatening. If you are not treated, it will affect your bones. They are more prone to osteoporosis,” says Dr. Ajlouni.

There are two fundamental ways to treat Graves’ disease. One is taking medications to regulate hormones. It requires frequent checkups to manage dosing. The other option is to remove or disable the thyroid. By surgery, or what is more common today, taking radioactive iodine.

“We are giving a dose of radioactive iodine that will shut down your thyroid and you will end up having hypothyroid, under-active thyroid. And you will be taking levothyroxine for the rest of your life. It doesn’t have a lot of side effects. It’s easy to control, less frequent visits to your doctors, less frequent blood tests, and if you want to conceive, it’s easier to control while pregnant,” says Dr. Ajlouni.

A Graves’ diagnosis means a lifetime of medical management, but in managing hormones, women can find balance in their lives.