Thyroid disease continues to be a growing global issue but there is still relatively little awareness and response regarding the development of thyroid related conditions.
Recently, the well-known daytime talk show host Wendy Williams began a three-week hiatus in order to focus on her newly diagnosed condition. On her show, aired on Wednesday February 21st, the 53-year-old host announced that she had been diagnosed with Graves’ disease.
Because Graves’ disease is not a well-known or commonly discussed condition, Williams’ announcement may have left many feeling confused or uncertain regarding the prognosis. Therefore, taking time to investigate Graves’ disease is perhaps the best response to this news. Learning how Graves’ affects the body, what symptoms may develop, and the treatments available can further increase personal and societal awareness of this impactful disease.
What Is Graves’ Disease?
Although it has significant impact on the thyroid, Graves’ disease is actually an autoimmune disorder. This condition is caused by immune dysfunction resulting in an excess of thyroid blocking antibodies. The antibody in question is thyroptin receptor antibody (TRAb), which emulates thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). TSH is critical in the regulation of thyroid hormones and relays information to the thyroid that influences the amount of thyroid hormone produced. When working correctly, the thyroid gland responds to TSH and produces an appropriate amount of T3 and T4. However, TRAb has an effect similar to TSH and may insert itself into this process resulting in excess production of thyroid hormones. Ultimately, this leads to excessive levels of T3 and T4.
Overabundance of thyroid hormones significantly increases metabolic function leading to inefficient burning of nutrients and calories. This means that there is less value being acquired from foods eaten. In addition to an excess of thyroid hormone in the body, continuous demand for thyroid hormone eventually causes the thyroid to become fatigued and ultimately incapable of maintaining the increased output. When this occurs, the body may suffer a metabolic crash.
The Hyperthyroid Connection
Graves’ is the leading cause of a condition known as hyperthyroidism. This form of thyroidal dysfunction causes excess production of thyroid hormones resulting in the development of multiple symptoms. Every cell in the body relies on thyroid hormones to function properly and maintain an appropriate activity level. Therefore, the thyroid has significant influence over numerous bodily systems with perhaps the most prominent being the metabolism.
If thyroid hormones fall out of balance due to overproduction, a person can suffer from hastening of their metabolism, seen in Graves’ and hyperthyroidism. Approximately 1% of the U.S. population has hyperthyroidism with 300,000 affected annually. Typically, hyperthyroidism affects people over the age of 60 but it can develop as early as childhood.
There are multiple contributing factors that increase the risk of developing a thyroid condition. Some of these factors can be limited while others cannot. Risk factors and contributing factors of hyperthyroidism include:
- Certain medications
- Family history of thyroid disease
- Graves’ disease
- Postpartum thyroiditis following childbirth
- Thyroid nodules or growths on the thyroid
- Thyroiditis or inflammation of the thyroid gland
The Signs and Symptoms of Graves’ Disease
Symptoms of Graves’ disease overlap greatly with hyperthyroidism. This should not be surprising because Graves’ frequently results in hyperthyroidism. However, it is common for symptoms of both hyperthyroidism and Graves’ disease to be misattributed to other conditions, resulting in delayed diagnosis and treatment. Common symptoms associated with both Graves’ and hyperthyroidism include:
- Excessive sweating
- Hand tremors
- Increased appetite
- Intolerance to heat
- Low libido and erectile dysfunction
- Menstrual changes
- Mood swings
- Muscle pain and weakness
- Poor temperature regulation
- Weight loss
In addition to the typical symptoms of hyperthyroidism, Graves’ may also be accompanied by eye-related issues. The most identifiable symptom of Graves’ is bulging, or protruding eyes caused by pressure and inflammation within the eye socket. This is known as Graves’ ophthalmology, which if left untreated, can result in blindness.
The autoimmune component of Graves’ causes the body’s own antibodies to attack TSH receptors, and eye muscles and tissue within the eye socket. Indicators of Graves’ ophthalmopathy include an inability to close eyelids, muscle weakness in the eye making it difficult to move the eyes, blurred vision or color blindness due to pressure on the optic nerve, and inflammation in the lacrimal gland leading to alternating wet and dry eyes. Typically, only 5% of those with Graves’ disease will develop severe ophthalmopathy with most suffering from milder symptoms.
There are multiple approaches to treating Graves’ disease, with each having their own benefits. The following options may be considered when discussing treatment of Graves’ disease.
In this treatment, radiated iodine cycles through thyroid cells and slowly destroys thyroid tissue which limits the production of thyroid hormones. However, this treatment is irreversible and if overdone, may result in hypothyroidism or underactive thyroid production.
Although antithyroid medications do limit thyroid production they frequently cause serious side effects including hair loss, vertigo, rash, liver damage, jaundice, aplastic anemia, and hepatitis. Many patients cannot put up with antithyroid medications thus they must utilize a different treatment option.
Surgical removal of part or all of the thyroid may be done to reduce thyroid production to an appropriate level. Typically, this procedure is reserved for people who cannot withstand antithyroid therapies such as radioiodine treatments.
Low Dose Naltrexone
This treatment is inexpensive and comes with little to no side effects. It positively impacts autoimmune dysfunction and helps regulate immune response to allow for proper thyroid function. It also limits inflammation and the production of antibodies, which are major contributing factors of Graves’ disease – learn more about LDN here.
Eliminating excess stress can reduce immune sensitivity resulting in fewer autoimmune reactions and less inflammation. Stress also contributes to greater cortisol and adrenaline production, which can disrupt neurotransmission and inhibit thyroid function – try implementing these stress-reducing tips.
Combatting Graves’ Through Greater Awareness
With Wendy Williams’ announcement, Graves’ disease and hyperthyroidism have been pushed further into the public eye. Although the severity her the condition was not explicitly stated, it is clear that taking time away from her show to attend to this new development is the correct choice. Hopefully, Wendy Williams’ experience with Graves’ disease and hyperthyroidism will prompt greater awareness and more proactive treatment for all.
1. Wendy Williams Suffers from Thyroid Issues. People. http://people.com/tv/wendy-williams-graves-disease/
2. Graves’ Disease Overview. National Academy of Hypothyroidism. https://www.nahypothyroidism.org/graves-disease-overview/
3. Save Your Vision From Graves’ Ophthalmopathy. National Academy of Hypothyroidism. https://www.nahypothyroidism.org/save-your-vision-from-graves-ophthalmopathy/