Identifying and Curing Graves' Disease

How Is It Diagnosed?

To diagnose Graves' disease, healthcare providers start by asking a number of questions and performing a thorough physical examination. They may also recommend several tests to confirm the diagnosis.
 
One of these tests looks at TSH levels. This test is the most accurate measure of thyroid activity available. TSH can be low even with small increases in thyroid function.
 
The healthcare provider may also recommend one or more of the following:
 
  • Test to measure T3 and T4
  • TSI test
  • Radioactive iodine uptake test
  • Thyroid scan.
     
(Click Graves' Disease Diagnosis to learn more about each of these tests.)
 

Treatment Options

The goal of treatment for Graves' disease is to return thyroid hormone levels to normal. Treatment options include:
 
  • Medicines
  • Radioiodine therapy (radioiodine ablation)
  • Surgery.
     
The two main drugs used are beta blockers and antithyroid medicines.
 
Beta blocker medicines are used to quickly decrease symptoms until other treatments take effect. They do not affect thyroid hormone levels. Antithyroid drugs decrease the amount of thyroid hormone the body makes. They are usually taken for one to two years. Unlike other treatment options, these medications may or may not cause permanent remission of an overactive thyroid.
 
Radioactive iodine destroys the thyroid with radiation. This treatment option is an effective and permanent way to cure Graves' disease. It can, however, cause hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid). Healthcare providers consider this an acceptable outcome, since hypothyroidism is easier to treat and has fewer long-term problems than Graves' disease.
 
Pregnant women should not receive radioiodine therapy, and any pregnancy should be delayed for four to six months after this treatment is completed (see Hyperthyroidism and Pregnancy).
 
Surgery is the least common treatment recommended. It is another permanent option, but it is used less often because of the greater relative risks compared to medicines and radioiodine therapy.
 
Before recommending a particular treatment plan, healthcare providers will consider how severe the symptoms of Graves' disease are, how old the person is, and what other conditions they might have.
 
(Click Treatment for Graves' Disease for more information on each of these different options.)
 
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