What is Thyroid Disease?
Thyroid disease (also known as Graves’ disease) and is another autoimmune disease. As such the basic pathology is one of inflammation. The cause of the inflammation is free radicle damage which results from the immune system attacking the thyroid gland tissue and also the tissues of the eye socket (orbit). The immune response is an inappropriate one and results from the body’s antibodies not recognising these tissues as being “self”.
The result is that the thyroid gland produces increased amounts of thyroid hormone (hyperthyroidism) causing the muscles and soft tissues within the eye socket to swell. This pushes the eyeball forward and causes various eye symptoms.
Who it Affects
About 200 million people in the world have some form of thyroid disease. Women are more likely than men to develop thyroid disorders.
Thyroid Disease Symptoms
The most well-known symptom is from the inflammation of the ocular tissues with the resultant swelling that pushes the eyes forward causing the eyes to become prominent and “staring”. Swelling and stiffness of the muscles that move the eyes may cause double vision and pain on eye movement. Excessive swelling may stretch and press on the nerve behind the eye and affect vision.
Many people with thyroid eye disease have only mild ocular features such as eye irritation, slight bulging of the eyes and lid puffiness. These features commonly resolve spontaneously within a year or two, and if the eyes have been the same with few symptoms for about six months it is unlikely that they will get worse.
Other symptoms include rapid pulse and heartbeat, palpitations, sweating, anxiety, irritability, trembling in hands and fingers, fatigue, weight loss, heat intolerance, more frequent bowel movements, less frequent menstrual periods with lighter than normal menstrual flow and loss of hair.
In addition to the symptoms above, people with hyperthyroidism may have osteoporosis (weak, brittle bones). In fact, hyperthyroidism might affect your bones before you are aware of any symptoms. This is especially true of postmenopausal women, who are already at high risk of osteoporosis.
Thyroid Disease Treatment
Mild signs and symptoms will respond to simple measures which may include elevating the head of the bed to prevent eyelid swelling, the use of artificial tears or ocular lubricants and the wearing of dark glasses.
The more serious eye problems associated with thyroid eye disease will require more aggressive management. Increasing bulging of the eyes, especially if associated with blurred or double vision indicates the need for early additional measures. These could include immunosuppressive therapy, either the use of steroids or radiation to reduce the inflammation and resultant swelling behind the eyes. Surgery may occasionally be necessary to reduce pressure on the optic nerve.
Resolution of signs and symptoms is possible with prompt and appropriate management but cannot be guaranteed unless they were mild or treated early and aggressively when necessary.
Thyroid Disease Prevention
A healthy plant based diet will provide the antioxidants necessary to neutralise the damaging effects of the free radicals which are responsible for the inflammation in this and all other autoimmune diseases. Find out more by downloading my ebook.
Tobacco smoke contains substances that affect the function of the thyroid so smoking is best avoided. According to a Jan. 27, 1993 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association smokers are twice as likely as non-smokers to develop Graves’ disease.
- Overactive thyroid: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Thyroid-over-active/Pages/Introduction.aspx
- Cigarette Smoking and Thyroid Disease: http://thyroid.about.com/cs/latestresearch/a/smoking.htm