What Medications and Therapies Treat Graves’ Disease?

How anti-thyroid medications, radioiodine therapy, and surgery can be used to treat this thyroid disorder.

Because the thyroid hormone is important to so many different processes within the body, people with Graves’ disease can experience a variety of symptoms.

Graves’ Disease affects the thyroid, a hormone-producing gland located in the throat. When a person has Graves’ disease, the body’s immune system attacks the thyroid gland. This causes hyperthyroidism—the thyroid gland becomes too active and produces too much thyroid hormone.

Hormones are chemical messengers that travel through the bloodstream and control different processes throughout the body’s many organs and systems—mood, metabolism, sleep, blood pressure, and sexual function, to name a few.

Thyroid hormone acts on all these processes and many others—it helps regulate heartrate and respiration, digestion, muscle contractions, and helps maintain healthy numbers of skin cells and bone cells. These are just examples. Every organ and system in the body relies on healthy levels of thyroid hormone to function properly.

Because the thyroid hormone is important to so many different processes within the body, people with Graves’ disease can experience a variety of symptoms—rapid heartrate, unintended weight loss, muscle weakness, mood changes, poor heat tolerance.

Graves’ disease requires treatment. Left untreated, Graves’ disease can result in serious complications that can damage a person’s heart, bones, eyesight, and more.

Therapies for Graves’ Disease

Graves’ disease is treated by a healthcare provider called an endocrinologist. This is a medical doctor who specializes in hormone disorders and the organs, glands, and systems that produce hormones (the endocrine system).

The choice of treatment will vary from person to person, but a treatment plan for Graves’ disease may include medications, radioiodine therapy, or surgery.

  • Anti-thyroid drugs. These medications block the thyroid from using iodine, an element found in foods that the thyroid gland uses to produce thyroid hormone. These may be prescribed long-term, or as a short-term solution before other therapies can be used.
  • Radioiodine therapy. This involves taking pills that contain radioactive iodine. When these pills are ingested, the radioactive iodine makes its way to the thyroid gland, where it destroys overactive thyroid cells and shrinks the thyroid gland. People who undergo this treatment typically develop hypothyroidism (too little thyroid hormone) and will need to take replacement thyroid hormone medications.
  • Surgery. In some cases, healthcare providers may recommend surgery to remove part of the thyroid gland. This reduces the amount of thyroid hormone being produced. This can be a good treatment option for people who cannot take anti-thyroid medications or radioiodine—people who are pregnant, for example. Surgery may also be used to remove goiters—enlarged thyroid glands. Because a person can develop hypothyroidism after surgery, they may need to take replacement thyroid hormone medications.
  • Beta blockers. These medications do not act directly on the thyroid gland or thyroid levels, but they can reduce symptoms such as tremors, rapid heartrate, and nervousness. They can be helpful when used along with other treatments or when someone cannot use other therapies—for example, during pregnancy. Beta blockers are also used to treat high blood pressure.

Some people with Graves’ disease also have an eye condition called thyroid eye disease (TED) and/or a skin condition called Graves' dermopathy. These conditions require their own treatments that are overseen by additional specialists.

Co-existing conditions and medications

Graves’ disease is more common in people who have certain other autoimmune disorders, including rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, a skin condition called vitiligo, and autoimmune gastritis.

Having Graves’ disease can affect the way that a person manages other conditions—especially any conditions that are being treated with medications. For example, thyroid disorders and treatment for thyroid disorder can affect how the body uses medications for heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

Talk to your healthcare providers about your medical history, overall health, and any medications you take, including over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements.

While Graves’ disease cannot be treated with lifestyle changes alone, good nutrition, changes to diet, staying active, and reducing stress can benefit people with the condition—and are additional topics worth discussing with your healthcare providers.

Article sources open article sources

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Graves' Disease.
MedlinePlus. Hormones.
Cleveland Clinic. Hormones.
Cleveland Clinic. Thyroid Hormone.
Endocrine Society. Thyroid and Parathyroid Hormones.
American Thyroid Association. Graves' Disease FAQs.
Cleveland Clinic. Endocrinologist.
Mayo Clinic. Graves' Disease.
MedlinePlus. Graves' Disease.
National Institutes of Health Officer of Dietary Supplements. Iodine.
American Thyroid Association. Radioactive Iodine FAQs.
NCI Dictionaries. Goiter.
American Thyroid Association. Hyperthyroidism in Pregnancy.
Mount Sinai. Graves’ Disease.
Sallianne Kavanagh and Priya Boparai. Thyroid dysfunction and drug interactions. The Pharmaceutical Journal. May 28, 2015.

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