Graves' Ophthalmopathy

What is Graves' Disease?

Graves’ disease is a thyroid disorder in which the thyroid gland, which produces hormones in response to foreign invaders such as viruses or bacteria, is overactive, causing a number of physical reactions. These include weight loss, rapid heart rate, sweating, and changes to bone, skin, and nails^1^. 

The eyes are affected through a separate, yet related disease called Graves’ ophthalmopathy. In Graves’ ophthalmopathy, the overactive thyroid targets the area surrounding the eyes and may cause inflammation, redness, achiness, pink eye, eyelid retraction and bulging eyes^2^.

Although Graves’ ophthalmopathy is caused by a hyperactive thyroid, the hormones that affect the eyes are not the same ones that cause reactions in other parts of the body. In roughly 10% of cases, people with Graves’ ophthalmopathy do not actually have Graves’ disease^3^.
In extreme cases of Graves’ ophthalmopathy, swollen eye muscles may put extreme pressure on the optic nerve, leading to double vision^4^.


Causes

Graves’ ophthalmopathy is an autoimmune condition where the thyroid gland mistakenly senses harmful cells and releases antibodies to combat them^3^. Since there are no harmful cells, the released antibodies end up fusing with muscles in the eyes, causing the onset of Graves’ ophthalmopathy.

Symptoms

Treatment

  1. Royal Berkshire NHS. Graves’ Disease. (2013)
  2. American Thyroid Association. Graves’ Disease. (2014)
  3. Thyroid Foundation of Canada. Graves’ Eye Disease. Available at: [http://www.thyroid.ca/ophthalmopathy.php]
  4. Patient. Thyroid Eye Disease. Available at: [http://patient.info/health/thyroid-eye-disease-leaflet]
  5. WebMD Boots. Hyperthyroidism. Graves’ Ophthalmology. Available at: [http://www.webmd.com/eye-health/tc/hyperthyroidism-graves-ophthalmopathy-topic-overview]
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