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Understanding Graves' Disease -- Diagnosis and Treatment

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What Are the Treatments for Graves' Disease? continued...

Antithyroid drugs such as propylthiouracil and methimazole (Tapazole), which interfere with thyroid hormone production, can be used to treat Graves' disease. After you begin treatment, it may take several months for hyperthyroid symptoms to subside. This is because the thyroid has already generated and stored enough hormone to keep it circulating at elevated levels. Once the stores are drained, hormone production should drop to its normal level. Although your disease may seem to go away entirely, you might still need drug therapy to keep your thyroid operating properly. Even if your case of Graves' disease does go into remission and your doctor says it's safe to stop taking medication, you will need to be evaluated every year or so to make sure hyperthyroidism has not returned since relapse is common.

Beta-blockers such as atenolol (Tenormin), propranolol (Inderal), and metoprolol (Lopressor), frequently prescribed to treat heart disease and high blood pressure, are also used by some patients to alleviate the heart palpitations and muscle tremors that characterize Graves' disease. Before prescribing beta blockers for this condition, however, your doctor needs to know if you are asthmatic or have any kind of heart trouble. These drugs aren't a cure; instead they are given to block some of the effects of thyroid hormones. They are used in conjunction with other treatments.

Radioactive iodine treatments and antithyroid drugs are usually effective in slowing down thyroid hormone output, but in some cases surgery is the best approach for Graves' disease. If you develop the disorder before or during pregnancy, for example, or if you are reluctant or unable to undergo radioactive treatment or are allergic to antithyroid medication, your doctor may recommend subtotal thyroidectomy, a relatively safe and simple procedure in which most of the thyroid gland is removed.

Because many conventional remedies severely limit the thyroid's ability to manufacture thyroid hormone, they increase the chances that you will develop hypothyroidism, a potentially serious condition marked by insufficient thyroid hormone production. Therefore, if you have undergone any treatments for Graves' disease, you must continue to see your doctor for periodic checkups to make sure the problem has not been overcorrected, causing your thyroid hormone levels to drop too low.

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