Graves’ Disease: What Are Your Chances Of Dying?

Graves’ disease is a thyroid condition that can be treated and managed successfully. However, Graves’ disease is potentially fatal when left untreated or when it becomes extremely severe.

Have you considered clinical trials for Graves' disease?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Graves' disease, and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

Graves’ disease

Graves’ disease is defined by an overactive thyroid. The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located at the front of the neck. 

When the thyroid becomes overactive, it produces more hormones and releases them into the body. An overactive thyroid is known as hyperthyroidism. 

Graves’ disease is caused by an autoimmune disorder, where immune antibodies latch onto healthy cells in the thyroid. However, when the antibodies attach to these cells, they stimulate the thyroid, making it overactive. 

If Graves’ disease is left untreated, it will worsen, and the symptoms will become very severe. Because of this, seeking medical advice is crucial so you can have the best outcome possible. 

Proactively treating this disease will make it more manageable, significantly improving your quality of life.  

Treatment

Treatments include:

  • Medications: beta-blockers, antithyroid drugs, monoclonal antibodies, and corticosteroids 

  • Radioiodine therapy

  • Surgery 

Since several treatments are available, you do not need to worry if your first treatment is unsuccessful. 

While some medications only reduce the symptoms, other treatments can offer more long-term solutions if required. 

It is important to follow your doctor's advice and use a treatment that they recommend to ensure that you are doing the right thing. 

Treatment will undoubtedly improve your chances of recovery and reduce your risk of further complications. 

Symptoms and complications

If you leave your symptoms untreated, you might develop more or worsen the existing ones. 

The symptoms of Graves’ disease include:

  • Weight loss

  • Increased appetite

  • Irregular heart rate

  • Rapid heart rate

  • Nervousness

  • Jitteriness

  • Difficulty sleeping 

  • Daytime tiredness

  • Fatigue

  • Menstrual changes

  • Frequent or irregular bowel movements 

  • Muscle tremors and weakness

There are also complications of this disease that can arise if left untreated. 

Because of this, it is important to realize that Graves’ disease is not a single disorder since it can have a flow-on effect on other areas of your body. 

Possible complications include:

  • Goiter (bulging neck)

  • Ophthalmopathy (eye problems)

  • Dermopathy (skin problems) (rarely)

  • Thyrotoxic myopathy (muscle problems) 

  • Osteoporosis (thinning of the bones)

  • Problems with fertility and pregnancy due to menstrual changes

  • Heart failure

  • Stroke

How does Graves’ disease become fatal?

As mentioned previously, Graves’ disease is predominantly fatal when left untreated. However, as the disease progresses, it can become very severe for some people, needing stronger treatment. 

But if you are wondering what aspects of the disease are fatal, you should look out for the following complications. 

Goiter

A goiter occurs when the thyroid gland swells. As the thyroid swells, it can block the airways and esophagus. 

As a result, you will have difficulty swallowing food and breathing. A goiter is treatable but can cause problems with eating and breathing when left untreated. 

Ophthalmopathy (eye problems)

Graves’ ophthalmopathy is an eye complication. Symptoms include:

  • Bulging eyes

  • Irritated eyes

  • Puffiness around the eyes

  • Sensitivity to bright light

  • Painful pressure in the eyes

  • Blurred vision

If left untreated, your quality of life will significantly decrease. However, Graves’ ophthalmopathy can be treated with monoclonal antibodies and corticosteroids. 

But these treatments only reduce the symptoms associated with Graves’ ophthalmopathy, and you might require further treatments to prevent the recurrence of another flare-up. 

Thyrotoxic myopathy (muscle problems)

Thyrotoxic myopathy is a muscle complication. Symptoms include:

  • Muscle weakness

  • Muscle tenderness

  • Muscle fatigue

  • Wasting of the muscles around the pelvis and shoulders

  • Heat intolerance and sweating

  • Tremors and shaky hands

Again, this is another complication that can impact your quality of life when left untreated. Treatment involves reducing the production of thyroid hormones with antithyroid medication, radioiodine therapy, or surgery. 

Heart failure

Heart failure arises due to the excess T3 and T4 hormones circulating throughout the body. These hormones have a range of functions that typically result in the speeding up of bodily processes. 

As a result of these elevated hormones, your heart will beat faster, or you may develop an irregular heartbeat. 

Reducing the production of thyroid hormones with treatment can restore your heart rate. This treatment also involves measures to reduce the production of thyroid hormones, such as anti-thyroid medication, radioiodine therapy, or surgery.  

But addressing lifestyle factors such as exercise, diet, stress, and sleep can also help prevent heart failure. Making improvements in these areas will improve your quality of life. 

Stroke

Heart problems caused by Graves’ disease can potentially cause a stroke. A stroke is an acute condition where a blood clot suddenly cuts off the blood supply to the brain. 

Strokes can vary in severity. While some people fully recover from their stroke, others may suffer brain damage or become paralyzed. 

Strokes that are dealt with immediately tend to have less of a lasting impact on the body. Therefore, if you experience any stroke symptoms, you should err on the side of caution and go straight to the hospital. 

The fact that heart problems can contribute to strokes highlights the benefits of positive lifestyle changes, though getting treatment for your thyroid condition will be part of the process. 

Ensuring that you keep up with treatment will reduce the risk of heart complications and strokes.

When to see a doctor

If you are currently on treatment for Graves’ disease and your symptoms worsen, your doctor will need to reassess your treatment plan. 

When your symptoms get worse or new symptoms appear, it might be time to try another treatment. 

If you think you might be having a stroke or heart complications, do not hesitate to seek urgent medical advice. Delaying help for these problems can make them worse or fatal. 

If you have any other concerns about your condition, make sure that you discuss these concerns with your doctor. 

The lowdown

Graves’ disease can become fatal when it is left untreated. However, getting treatment and making the appropriate lifestyle changes will significantly improve your outcome and quality of life. 

If you are concerned about your condition worsening, do not hesitate to see your doctor.

Have you considered clinical trials for Graves' disease?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Graves' disease, and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

Joining community groups and exercise programs for my condition made me feel empowered – but I want to be part of finding a cure.
Peter, 64

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