Graves’ disease has many different names, including thyroid eye disease, Graves’ ophthalmopathy and Graves’ orbitopathy. It is an autoimmune disorder followed by inflammation which causes retraction of the upper eye lid, redness and swelling, lid lag, bulging eyes and conjunctivitis, as well as thyroid and skin changes. Graves’ disease is actually the most common kind of hyperthyroidism, which is a condition which arises from excessive activity of the thyroid gland which produces increased amounts of thyroid hormone.
The problem starts with autoantibodies. They are proteins within the body which are produced by our own immune system. However, instead of protecting us by attacking harmful elements sourced from outside the body, they direct their activity against other proteins which are naturally present in the body.
In this case, one element naturally present in the body fights against another element naturally present in the body and this is what autoimmune diseases are.
In the case of Graves’ disease, the autoantibodies work against fibroblasts which causes them to differentiate into fat cells. These cells, as well as the surrounding muscles, become inflamed and they expand. This compresses veins and causes edema.
The disease progresses slowly over a period of a few months, so it is difficult to detect at first.
Who gets Graves’ disease?
Graves’ disease is more common in women and also far more for smokers. However, when men get Graves’ disease, they have far worse prognosis. Most commonly, the patients are between 30 and 50 years old. About 1 in 25 patients develops harsh symptoms including severe pain, corneal ulceration which can endanger eye sight and noticeable compression of the optic nerve.
What are the symptoms of Graves’ disease?
The initial symptom includes retraction of the eyelids. This can lead to several other signs, including eye globe lag, eyelid lag and even lack of capability to close eyelids completely.
This increases the dryness of cornea and also brings chemosis and regular inflammation of the cornea, superior tarsal and bulbar conjunctiva and limbus, also known as superior limbic keratoconjunctivitis.
The quality and quantity of tears also changes, which leads to other symptoms including irritation, tearing, photophobia, blurred vision and more.
As the problems increase, they become more noticeable and persistent and they can include myopathy (bad performance of the muscle fibers) and gaze issues caused by the excessive inflammation and edema. Fibrosis of the inferior rectus muscle may lead to limited eye elevation as well as increased intraocular pressure.
The disease can progress further and create changes within the orbit including exophthalmus, severe myopathy, optic nerve compression and/or damage, optic neuropathy and more, leading to loss of color vision, defect in the visual field and other issues.
Optic nerve problems can lead to loss of eye sight.
Graves’ disease treatment options
Spontaneous remissions have been noted, but it is not advised to wait for them, since the condition can worsen in time and create additional problems.
Cases with mild symptoms are usually easily dealt with by addressing the symptoms themselves and reducing the discomfort.
Thyroidectomy, a surgical procedure which involves removal of a part of the thyroid gland of the entire gland, does help, but its removal comes with serious risks. Instead of removing the gland, many patients opt for anti-thyroid drugs, but their prolonged usage also leads to an increase in risks and side effects.
Ocular exposure is usually treated with topical lubrication in order to prevent corneal damage. If this is not successful, people often opt for tarsorrhaphy, which is a surgery in which eyelids openings are narrowed by sewing of the eyelids.
In some cases, steroidal drugs are necessary, usually glucocorticoids and they are used to reduce inflammation. Other anti-inflammatory drugs are also a common necessity, since inflammation is one of the main occurrences and issues. However, treatment which includes corticosteroids is limited in scope and duration, since they have serious side effects.
Surgery is used to decompress the orbit and improve diplopia. However, it is necessary that the condition of the patient has been stable for about half a year before surgery can be an option. This is sometimes neglected when blindness is caused by the compression of the optic nerve.
Another surgical option includes lengthening of the lids in order to address the symptoms related to the ocular exposure.
Several recent studies have shown just how effective some supplements can be against Graves’ disease. The first one is selenium, which can resolve mild cases after about six months of usage and all that without any side effects.
The second option is PEA. It is very effective against a number of autoimmune diseases and even failed back syndrome, due to its only ingredient – palmitoylethanolamide. It is incredibly effective in addressing pain, inflammation and cell recovery.
These benefits come from PEA’s effects on numerous receptors within the body, including GPR55, GPR119, PPAR-alpha, CB1 and CB2, as well as its inhibition of iNOS and COX-2 and its promoting effects on anandamide.
This means that PEA provides thorough protection of the cells and immune system. It balances the inflamed cells which reduces inflammation without any side effects. In fact, palmitoylethanolamide’s benefits were discovered in the mid-1950s after it was noticed it helped reduce inflammation and allergies.
However, having in mind all the other treatment options, perhaps the biggest benefits of PEA lie in its safety and when it comes to Graves’ disease, it has several different aspects. First of all, palmitoylethanolamide is naturally present in the body and it is not toxic in any way.
Secondly, it can be used together with any other medicine, since it has no negative interactions with anything you might use to treat Graves’ disease or any of its symptoms.
Thirdly, there are no side effects of any kind. Palmitoylethanolamide has been tested for a huge number of diseases in the past 60 years and there have been no side effects.
Lastly, it can be used for as long as you like, unlike corticosteroids.
Having all this in mind, taking PEA in order to treat Graves’ disease is a great option, especially when we know that you can take it alongside regular therapy with no issues. Make sure you let your doctor know and enjoy the benefits of the most natural way of reducing and even eliminating excessive inflammation.