Graves’ Disease: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

Although you may have never heard of it, Graves’ disease affects many children and adolescents in the United States. Like its counterpart, Hashimoto’s disease, Grave’s disease is an autoimmune disorder affecting the thyroid and thyroid hormone levels.

Keep reading to learn more about Graves’ disease, its symptoms, and treatment options.

What is Grave’s Disease?

Graves’ disease is a chronic autoimmune disorder affecting the thyroid, causing the overproduction of thyroid hormone.

1 in 10,000 children in the United States has Graves’ disease. It is more common in girls than in boys and is usually diagnosed after the age of 5. Diagnostic tools include a physical exam, bloodwork, an ultrasound of the thyroid, or a radioactive iodine uptake test. Risk factors include a family history of autoimmune or thyroid disorders, stress, viral infections, and the use of certain medications that contain iodine. Other autoimmune disorders may be present in children with Graves’ disease, the most common being celiac disease.

Graves' Disease: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

Symptoms of Graves’ Disease

Symptoms in children can be mild or severe and may include:

  • Enlarged thyroid (goiter)
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Heart palpitations
  • Eye pain, redness, or swelling
  • Hand tremors
  • Mood and behavior changes
  • Anxiety
  • Hair loss
  • Fatigue
  • Sweating
  • Weight loss
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Increased appetite
  • Frequent bowel movements
  • Heat intolerance
  • Bedwetting
  • Irregular menstrual cycles

Causes of Graves’ Disease

Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disorder and occurs when antibodies cause the thyroid gland to make too much thyroid hormone, also known as hyperthyroidism.

Risk factors for Graves’ disease include:

  • Being female
  • Family history of Graves’ disease or similar conditions
  • Viral infections
  • Stress
  • Use of iodine or medicines that have iodine
  • History of smoking
  • Down Syndrome or Turner Syndrome

The symptoms of Graves’ disease are caused by excess thyroid hormone in the bloodstream, and treatment consists of reducing the levels of thyroid hormone.

Treatment of Graves’ Disease

Thyroid medications and treatments can have side effects and should always be taken under the supervision of a licensed medical doctor. Treatment options include:

  • Anti-thyroid Medication–The most common and effective treatment for Graves’ disease is the prescription of anti-thyroid medication such as Methimazole. These medications help block the production of thyroid hormone, leading to better thyroid hormone regulation and the alleviation of symptoms.
  • Radioactive Iodine –Taken orally, this treatment destroys all or part of the thyroid gland, thus blocking the production of thyroid hormone. It is often used only if medications prove to be ineffective.
  • Surgery – In some cases, a thyroidectomy may be performed, which is a surgical procedure to remove the thyroid. Thyroid hormone must be taken for life after such a surgery to prevent issues with hypothyroidism (low thyroid hormone).

Graves’ disease is a lifelong condition that will likely require monitoring and medication management well into adulthood. Parents should keep an eye on their child’s symptoms and work with their child’s doctor to ensure the proper dosing of any treatments or medications. Contact your child’s doctor to discuss the various treatment options.

If you think your child may have Graves’ disease, please schedule an office visit today to discuss it with one of our friendly, board-certified pediatricians.