BRISBANE, 4 June 2012 – One of the medical complications related to those suffering with thyroid problems is the increased likelihood of developing Graves’ disease (thyroid eye disease (TED) or thyroid orbitopathy). With Thyroid Awareness Week running from 1 to 7 June this year, now is a good time to learn more about this condition, how to spot it and what to do if think you’re at risk.
“Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disease where a patient’s own immune cells attack their eye muscles and their thyroid, putting both at risk of dysfunction,” advises Dr Jan Coetzee of Eyecare Plus / Insight Optometrists in Indooroopilly, Brisbane. “It’s important to note that you don’t actually have to have thyroid problems to be diagnosed with Graves’. Although most people diagnosed do have an overactive thyroid, those with a normal or subnormal thyroid function can also develop the condition.”
Thyroid eye disease is estimated to affect approximately 9,900 Australians each year and is about nine times more likely to affect women, usually in the 20 to 45 year old age group.
Function and dysfunction of the thyroid
The thyroid gland is one of the largest endocrine gland and is found in the neck, below the ‘Adam’s Apple’. When functioning properly, the thyroid measures the speed at which the body uses energy, makes proteins and responds to other hormones. This process involves the thyroid converting iodine into hormones, with the main hormones produced being triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4), which regulate the metabolism and the function and growth of other many systems in the body.
“The thyroid can dysfunction for many reasons, such as iodine deficiency, inflammation and infection, autoimmune disorders, genetic factors or cancers,” explains Dr Coetzee. “When this happens, it can lead to problems in the eye and eye socket, with symptoms often appearing when hormone levels are too high. When thyroid dysfunction combines with changes in the eye, the diagnosis of thyroid eye disease, or Graves’ disease, can be made.”
‘Staring’ eyes may mean TED
The most visible sign of thyroid eye disease is noticeably bulging eyeballs, lending the sufferer a fixed, constantly staring appearance. “It’s very common for patients to experience outward bulging of the eyeballs, known as proptosis,” says Dr Coetzee. This can affect one or both eyes and is due to deposits of fat, fluid and inflammatory cells, as well as the eyelids retracting. Sometimes the inflammation of the eye sockets and enlargement of the eye muscles can put pressure on the optic nerve and vision may be affected or lost permanently.”
Symptoms of Graves’ disease
• Proptosis (bulging) of one or both eyes
• Swelling of the eyelids
• Puffiness of the eyelids in the morning
• Burning, itching, gritty, watery eyes
• Conjunctival swelling and redness
• Inability to close eyelids properly
• Deteriorating vision
• Diplopia (double vision)
• Increased sensitivity to light
Good eyecare habits for prevention and detection
Obviously any health and wellness regimen rests on a balanced diet rich in fresh foods, vitamins and minerals, pure water and regular exercise/destressing to strengthen your immune system. “Aside from good diet and lifestyle choices, three things you should do immediately if you suspect you could have TED are to give up smoking, see your GP with a view to undertaking thyroid blood level screening and visit your optometrist for a thorough eye exam and eye health assessment,” advises Dr Coetzee. Take advantage of today’s cutting-edge digital retinal imaging technology like optical coherence tomography (OCT), which uses ultrasound to take real-time 3D ‘cross section’ images of your eye. This technology is quickly able to pick up a range of eye conditions and can often show changes in the optic nerves that could indicate the possibility of Graves’ disease.”
For more information about Thyroid Awareness Week 2012, thyroid problems and support groups visit the Australian Thyroid Foundation Limited: http://www.thyroidfoundation.com.au and Thyroid Australia (Your Thyroid & You): http://www.yourthyroidandyou.org/.
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