Recognizing the symptoms of Grave's Disease

June 28, 2011 3:07:00 PM PDT
Feeling jumpy and nervous, with your heart racing? It could be just another day in New York City, but there may be a more ominous explanation, an overactive thyroid gland condition called Grave's Disease.

Grave's Disease strikes 20-to-40-year-old women seven times more frequently than men. With heart palpitations and anxiety, many people think the symptoms are panic attacks. The reality is a thyroid hormone overload which can kill.

31-year-old Erin Hardy is back to her normal weight now. But two years ago, she had lost almost 20 pounds with no change in eating or exercise.

"I felt like I was going to jump out of my skin, my heart was racing constantly, it would race all day long. I thought it was anxiety just stress from work, but it turned out to be something entirely different," Erin said. She was having classic symptoms of Grave's Disease.

Rapper Missy Elliott was diagnosed with Grave's three years ago. It's an illness often associated with something in the eyes.

"They were much larger, they looked like I was surprised all the time, they looked like they were almost bulging," Hardy added.

Another classic part of Grave's, the bulging eyes can be so severe that drugs don't work. Surgery may be needed.

Grave's is an autoimmune disease, where the body's immune system attacks its own thyroid gland. It's passed on genetically, and can run in families.

Symptoms are often mistaken for stress, which may delay a doctor's visit. By then, the heart may be overworked.

Blood tests can find Grave's, and drugs get rid of the disturbing symptoms in most cases, as they did for Erin. But because the disease can kill, specialists recently got new guidelines for quicker testing to prevent complications.

"The patient might simply be complaining of feeling tired and nervous, but thinks since they live in New York City, it must be stress. No, it's not stress, it might be Grave's Disease," said Dr. Agustin Busta of Beth Israel Medical Center.

Other symptoms can double vision, fatigue and insomnia. There are other thyroid problems that can cause over function. Most all are easily treated by medication and occasionally surgery on the thyroid gland.