Awareness for Graves' disease
Unfortunately, there is not one hyperthyroid symptoms that would point directly to Graves'. It is rather the totality of a wide range of physical and Neurological symptoms, which are typically moderate to severe by the time Graves' is diagnosed. Unlike unexplained weight gain which often points directly to hypothyroidism and could be a result of Hashimoto's disease. Graves' often causes weight loss, but rarely will someone complain about weight loss to their doctor unless it is significant.
Through awareness comes compassion, understanding, empathy and, most importantly, early diagnosis. The most successful awareness campaigns are in part from the medical term and one that is identifiable to a specific part of the body; such as, breast cancer, multiple sclerosis and diabetes. Bringing awareness to a disease that is named after a person is a little more challenging as it doesn't clearly identify any medical condition. Graves' is even more challenging because the first thought that comes to mind is typically a cemetery grave.
Graves' is a complex autoimmune disease that targets the thyroid gland and, as a result, affects every single cell in the body. The thyroid gland secretes hormones (energy) that plays a part in regulating just about every part of the body; such as, heart rate, metabolism, and kidney function. What symptoms appear and how severe the hyper symptoms, are different for each person. In a mild cases, most can be dismissed for one thing or another; such as, insomnia from stress or excessive thirst from a hot summer. In the beginning the symptoms often come and go without much notice. Typically the symptoms will become more severe overtime; however, in some cases they can appear suddenly without much notice.
It's not until the hyperthyroid symptoms interfere with a person's daily life do those symptoms become identifiable enough to reach out for medical care. In the case of Graves', there are such a wide range of symptoms that you could ask 10 people what symptoms they had and get 10 different answers. The most common symptoms are heart palpitations, tremors, hot flashes, anxiety, insomnia, weight loss and mood swings. None of which screams out this is a thyroid thing. However, a good doctor would look at the totality of those symptoms as hyperthyroidism, possibly caused by Graves'.
Awareness for Graves' will come from spreading the word about the hyperthyroid symptoms. It's not just the severity of the symptoms, but rather the totality. The mind and body become flooded with thyroid hormones (energy). Where and how that energy is used is different for each person. Some people actually gain weight, in which case the thyroid hormones are less directed towards the metabolism. Instead, the hormones could be focusing more on the muscles, heart rate and kidney functions. It is the knowledge that having more than one symptom could be an indication of an overactive thyroid gland, which does not always mean Graves' but it's a start. The key is spreading the word of the totality of hyperthyroid symptoms occurring around the same time.
Awareness should also extend to recovery. Graves' disease is an autoimmune disease, often referred to as a thyroid disease. However, keep in mind that the thyroid gland was simply the victim in the course of Graves'. Graves' triggered the thyroid gland to secrete high amounts of thyroid hormones into the blood stream resulting in the hyperthyroid symptoms. Once treated, thyroid hormones levels will return to a normal range. However, the body and mind will take time to adjust from functioning at high thyroid levels back to normal levels. There are a lot of parts that need to sync back together to function smoothly again.
Recovery can be a difficult and often a frustrating journey. In more severe cases, Graves' often leaves a footprint of symptoms that can last for years or may never totally resolve. However, each year it gets a little better as a person heals and learns what triggers the various long-term hyperthyroid symptoms left behind.
The more awareness for hyperthyroidism resulting from Graves' disease would help more people to connect the totality of the wide range of symptoms to the thyroid gland. Early diagnosis is the key to treatment and preventing serious medical conditions. Everyone should ask for a thyroid panel to be included in their lab work during yearly physicals.