Diagnosing Graves’ Disease

by on March 8th, 2015
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Graves’ disease is sometimes referred to as a toxic diffuse goiter. It is the United States’ most common cause of hyperthyroidism. There is an overproduction of the thyroid hormone.


Categorized as an autoimmune disorder, there are a few common signs of hyperthyroidism; hand tremors, sleeping trouble, heat intolerance, fatigue, muscle weakness, nervousness, irritability, rapid/irregular heartbeat, weight loss, frequent bowel movements, diarrhea. Other signs are a goiter, which is the thyroid being enlarged and appearing like a swollen neck.


With a proper family history and a physical exam, some doctors will diagnose with just this information. Lab tests can confirm the initial diagnosis. The TSH, or thyroid stimulating hormone, test is one of the first tests given.

TSH Test

This sensitive test detects the amount of TSH in the bloodstream. It accurately measures the activity of the thyroid. Doctors look for an increased level of T3 and T4 and a decreased level of TSH to diagnose Graves’ disease.

Other Tests

A thyroid scan can show how iodine is distributed in the thyroid. If it is Graves’ disease, the iodine will show up going all throughout the thyroid. Another test is the radioactive iodine uptake test, measuring the levels of iodine that is collected from the blood. If this is a high level, it will generally indicate Graves’ disease.


This condition is treated by surgery on the thyroid, antithyroid drugs, or by radioiodine therapy. In radioiodine therapy, patients take iodine by mouth to shut down the thyroid. Surgery is given with drugs or radioiodine therapy do not work, it is a last resort method of treatment. Drug therapy uses beta blockers to reduce the amount and the frequency of symptoms.

Graves’ disease can be easily treatable when the thyroid is blocked from use with daily drug therapy. It will be a condition that will be treated daily for the rest of the patient’s life, generally with good prognosis. The quality of life will not be burdened if the patient stays vigilant to the therapy program.

Source: NIH Publication No. 08-6217, May 2008

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