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Understanding Graves' Disease -- Diagnosis and Treatment

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

It should be noted that most people become hypothyroid after taking radioactive iodine for Graves' disease. If this occurs, you will have to take thyroid replacement medication for the rest of your life.

Although radioactive iodine treatments are generally safe, they cannot be given to pregnant women because the chemical may destroy the thyroid gland in the fetus. Therefore, you must make sure that you are not pregnant before you take radioactive iodine for Graves' disease. It is best to let several months pass after your last dose of radioactive iodine before becoming pregnant; confirm the length of time you should wait with your doctor. Except during these periods following the treatment, radioactive iodine poses no health risks for women who want to become pregnant, and it will not affect the fertility of either women or men.

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.

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.

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