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Living with Autoimmune Conditions: Graves' Disease

January 12, 2022
Reviewed by
Cheri Bantilan MS, RD, CD

Living with an autoimmune disease isn't easy, but according to the National Institutes of Health, a significant amount of Americans live with one—up to 23.5 million, in fact. The same report also found that they disproportionately affect women and that (for unknown reasons) their prevalence is rising. In the first of our series on autoimmune diseases, we told you more about Hashimoto's, which you can read about here. But just in case you need a little reminder, here's a refresher on what autoimmune diseases are before we dive into the next one in our series.

An autoimmune disease is when your immune system attacks organs, tissues, and cells. The causes for this are varied and could have to do with anything from genetics to bacteria, viruses, abnormalities, and certain drugs. It's not impossible, but not always easy to determine your risk factor for autoimmune diseases that are not genetic.

Type 1 diabetes, Hashimoto's disease, Rheumatoid arthritis, and Celiac disease are some you may recognize.

Autoimmune diseases affect everything from your pancreas, blood glucose levels, and thyroid glands to insulin secretion, blood pressure, and weight. So it's worth spending some time understanding the specifics of a few common autoimmune conditions. We're going to continue the series with another immune system disorder that affects thyroid function, called Graves’ disease.

What is Graves' Disease?

As we mentioned above, Graves' disease is an autoimmune disorder. The condition causes thyroid dysfunction and is one of the most common causes of hyperthyroidism. Interestingly, Graves' disease is named after the doctor who discovered it, Robert Graves.

So, what happens when you have Graves' disease? With this autoimmune condition, your thyroid begins to produce too much thyroid hormone. This increase in thyroid hormone levels affects several other things in your system.

Your immune system basically creates too many thyroid-stimulating immunoglobulins. In turn, these get attached to healthy thyroid cells. Eventually, this causes a thyroid disorder because of an overproduction of your thyroid hormones.

What are the Common Symptoms of Graves' Disease?

Graves' disease, like most other autoimmune disorders, affects everyone differently. Some people may end up more at risk of kidney disease. For others, symptoms may include low blood sugar or an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. A long list of symptoms can help identify someone suffering from this autoimmune thyroid disease. Here's just a few:

  1. Weight Loss: Some thyroid disorders lead to weight gain—Graves’ disease does the opposite. Due to the overproduction of thyroid hormones, you may burn through calories and lose weight too quickly.
  2. Irregular Sleep: People who experience the onset of Graves' disease may find that their ability to sleep through the night gradually decreases.
  3. Increased Bowel Movements: Hyperthyroid diseases and autoimmune thyroid diseases like Graves’ disease often cause the bowels to overwork. This results in more bowel movements than usual, sometimes causing diarrhea.
  4. Goiter: Graves' disease can cause the thyroid to become inflamed and swell, also known as a goiter.
  5. Anxiety: Increased thyroid hormones may lead to anxiety in people who suffer from Graves’ disease.
  6. Weakness: Graves' disease may lead to muscle weakness and, as a result, some difficulty performing physical tasks.
  7. Hot Flashes and Heat Sensitivity: Hyperthyroid conditions like Graves' disease can increase sweating and heat sensitivity.
  8. Menstrual Changes: As endocrinology studies and reports show, women undergo more changes to their endocrine system than men in their lifetime. Not only is there a higher incidence of autoimmune conditions among women, but these conditions also affect their hormones. Women who suffer from Graves' disease may also find their menstrual cycle becoming irregular as a result.
  9. Erectile Dysfunction: Men may find that they develop erectile dysfunction as Graves' disease develops.
  10. Irregular Heartbeat: People who have Graves' disease may find themselves experiencing faster heart rates than regular or irregular heartbeats.

How to Detect Inflammatory Graves' Disease

The first thing that your doctor will ask you if you have symptoms is whether or not you have a family history of Graves' disease. Because of the genetic link in autoimmune conditions, it's essential to maintain a family health history even if nothing is amiss. This can help your doctor pinpoint what you may be experiencing much quicker and with fewer tests if you end up suffering from any of the symptoms mentioned above.

If your doctor thinks you may have Graves' disease, they will likely run the following tests:

Blood Tests

Your doctor will run labs to search for the antibodies that trigger Graves' disease. If your thyroid is hyperactive, but they are not present, that means that your hyperthyroidism is likely caused by another condition.

Your doctor will run bloodwork to check your TSH (Thyroid-Stimulating Hormone). This is a test run to test for many different thyroid disorders. If you have Graves' disease, your TSH levels are suppressed while other hormone levels have risen.

Radioactive Iodine Test

Your doctor will give you a small amount of radioactive iodine and measure how much of it ends up in your thyroid gland. This is because your body requires iodine to create thyroid hormones. Using a special camera, your doctor can see how quickly your thyroid gathers the iodine. This is usually done after it is determined that you have hyperthyroidism. Once again, if this test doesn't show Graves' disease patterns, you will likely have a different hyperthyroid condition.

Imaging and Ultrasound Tests

Your doctor may run CT scans or an MRI to see if your thyroid is enlarged and inflamed.

They may also perform an ultrasound. Ultrasounds are often used by doctors to see if your thyroid gland is enlarged or inflamed. This test is often used to substitute the radioactive iodine test if you can't take that due to conditions like pregnancy.

Some Facts About Graves' Disease

  1. Graves' disease affects approximately one out of every 200 people.
  2. Women are more likely to develop Graves' disease than men.
  3. Viral, bacterial infections have been known to trigger Graves' disease.
  4. A small portion of those affected by Graves' disease will develop pretibial myxedema or Graves' dermopathy, which causes a red rash on the skin on your lower legs and feet.
  5. Approximately 25-50 percent of people affected by Graves' disease develop Graves' ophthalmopathy. Graves' ophthalmopathy makes your eyes dry and red. This can occasionally progress into developing a bulging in your eyes.
  6. Graves' disease has been linked to developing osteoporosis, a disease that weakens your bones.
  7. Smoking cigarettes has been linked to an increased risk of developing Graves' disease. Smoking cigarettes can weaken your immune system.
  8. Pregnancy can become complicated if you develop Graves' disease. It can lead to possible miscarriage, preterm birth, maternal heart issues, slow fetal growth, and other complications. If you think you have any of the symptoms of Graves' disease when you're pregnant, it's best to visit a doctor without delay.

How to Treat Graves' Disease

As with many autoimmune disorders, there is no cure for Graves' disease, but there are several different treatment options to manage and negate your symptoms. It will be up to you and your doctor to formulate a suitable treatment plan for Graves' disease after you are diagnosed. The goal of any treatment is to slow the production of thyroid hormones.

The most commonly used treatment is medication. There are many different brands of antithyroid medicines. One of these may be your doctor's first suggestion to slow the production of thyroid hormones. Some doctors may also use beta-blockers that have the same effect. Beta-blockers may also help reduce the symptoms of your hyperthyroidism.

Radioactive iodine therapy is the second most common treatment for Graves' disease. This is administered orally in the form of a pill. During the treatment, iodine is transferred to the thyroid gland. The radiation in it kills some of the cells, slowing down the production of thyroid hormones (like thyroxine and triiodothyronine).

This type of treatment has some risks due to the radiation, so if you're pregnant or have other health conditions, it's likely not a good option. Make sure to tell your doctor about any potential problems and discuss this in detail before agreeing to the treatment.

The last treatment commonly used to treat Graves' disease is thyroid surgery. This is the least common way to treat Graves' disease. Still, it may be necessary to develop a goiter or are in a more advanced stage of the disease when diagnosed. The procedure will remove part or all of your thyroid. You will likely need to take thyroid medication daily for the remainder of your life if you have this type of surgery.

Your Blood Sugar and Graves' Disease

Monitoring blood sugar levels is an essential part of diabetes care, but diabetes patients aren't the only people who should focus on blood glucose. Monitoring and managing blood glucose to ensure they're within a normal range can be an effective way to see if you're at risk of things like type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance. It's also an excellent way to prevent prediabetes and optimize overall health and wellness.

And whether you're a diabetic patient or not, thyroid diseases can make controlling your blood sugar levels more difficult. This is because hyperthyroid conditions like Graves’ disease can sometimes trick your body into craving sugar due to varying symptoms. Additionally, hyperthyroidism can, in some cases, cause your medications to be absorbed quicker than usual. If you are on any kind of diabetes medication, monitor this as it may result in blood sugar spikes. Thyroid disorders like Graves' can also cause hyperglycemia.

Because they're both endocrine disorders, there's a link between thyroid disorders and diabetes, as the American Diabetes Association explains. People with type 1 or type 2 diabetes or insulin resistance can often be at a higher risk of developing thyroid diseases like Graves' disease. And people with autoimmune disorders like Graves’ disease can sometimes be more at risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

So, it's a good idea to wear a glucose monitor or check your blood sugar levels frequently to see how your blood glucose and hyperthyroidism interact. Using a continuous glucose monitor (CGM)is a non-invasive, easy way to track this data. Healthcare professionals like doctors or registered dietitians can help you read the data and understand more about hypoglycemia, hyperglycemia, insulin resistance, and impaired glucose tolerance, which can affect autoimmune conditions like thyroid dysfunction. They can also help you with better blood sugar management.

Diet Guidelines to Help with Graves' Disease

Do you usually focus on your food's glycemic index, carbohydrate, and fat content because you want to lose weight? Concentrating on what you eat helps with more than weight gain issues. Here are a few diet guidelines to help you manage and monitor Graves' disease.

  1. Because of the effect that Graves' disease can have on your bones, it's a good idea to ensure that you're getting enough calcium in your diet.
  2. A vitamin D deficiency can exacerbate or increase your risk of Graves' disease, so increase your exposure to it and increase your intake of vitamin D foods. Vitamin D can help bolster your system and regulate insulin and blood sugar levels.
  3. Eat lots of protein-rich food to stave off the weight loss that Graves' disease can cause.
  4. Avoid gluten, especially if you have Celiac disease, as it has been linked to Graves' disease.
  5. Consider consuming foods that contain natural supplements like magnesium to help your body absorb calcium.

Many nutrient-rich foods can help you control your hyperthyroid symptoms. Talk to your doctor or work with a dietitian to understand how dietary changes can help you manage conditions like Graves' disease.

Manage Blood Sugar Levels and Optimize Your Health with NutriSense

When treating something like hyperthyroidism, it's essential to understand what your symptoms are being caused by and how to manage them. Using a CGM to track your blood sugar levels can help you make necessary dietary and lifestyle changes, especially if you have a thyroid disorder.

With a NutriSense subscription, your sensor collects data in real-time, which you can track in an innovative app. You also have access to a team of registered dietitians who can help you monitor blood sugar levels as you manage your autoimmune or health conditions.

Click here to listen to the podcast.
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Living with Autoimmune Conditions: Graves' Disease
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62
min
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Blood Glucose Regulation: A Guide to Glycemic Index, Continuous Glucose Monitoring, & Intermittent Fasting · Kara Collier, RDN
Blood Glucose Regulation: A Guide to Glycemic Index, Continuous Glucose Monitoring, & Intermittent Fasting · Kara Collier, RDN

Kara Collier, the Director of Nutrition at Nutrisense, is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Nutrition Support Clinician who specializes in glucose control and...

Podcast
42
min
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My Blood Sugar Trends!
My Blood Sugar Trends!

Nutrisense hooked up Shanna Hussin, RDN with continuous glucose monitoring as a tool to see trends in food response, stress, sleep, and exercise.

Podcast
57
min
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Continuous Glucose Monitors: Why They’re Not Just for Diabetics Anymore with Kara Collier
Continuous Glucose Monitors: Why They’re Not Just for Diabetics Anymore with Kara Collier

In this episode, Kara talks about blood sugar levels and explains why CGMs (continuous glucose monitors) are useful for everyone and not just diabetics.

Podcast
70
min
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Blood sugar balance, weight loss, metabolic health and continuous glucose monitoring
Blood sugar balance, weight loss, metabolic health and continuous glucose monitoring

In this episode, Ellie interviews Kara Collier is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Nutrition Support Clinician with a background in clinical nutrition...

Podcast
53
min
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How Continuous Glucose Monitoring Can Lead to Health-Conscious Behavioral Change
How Continuous Glucose Monitoring Can Lead to Health-Conscious Behavioral Change

Curious how continuous glucose monitoring can lead to significant behavioral change? Kara Collier of NutriSense discusses how this happens with Heads Up founder Dave Korsunsky.

Podcast
58
min
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Continuous Glucose Monitors for Keto & Health Optimizations w/Kara Collier of NutriSense
Continuous Glucose Monitors for Keto & Health Optimizations w/Kara Collier of NutriSense

Learn how continuous glucose monitors can help you obtain metabolic flexibility and Ways to use CGM's to experiment.

Podcast
35
min
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Be your Healthiest Self
Be your Healthiest Self

Carlee Hayes is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and Lead Nutritionist on a mission to help people become the healthiest version of themselves.

Podcast
45
min
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How Nutrisense Can Help You Personalize Your Diet
How Nutrisense Can Help You Personalize Your Diet

In this week’s episode, Nathalie talks to Carlee Hayes about how CGM’s and the Nutrisense app can support individuals to personalize their diet and reach their goals.

Podcast
42
min
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Improving Insulin Resistance, PCOS, and Overall Health with Continuous Glucose Monitors
Improving Insulin Resistance, PCOS, and Overall Health with Continuous Glucose Monitors

In today's episode, Amber talks with Molly, one of the dieticians at Nutrisense, a health technology company that specializes in Continuous Glucose Monitors.

Podcast
56
min
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How To Use A Continuous Glucose Monitor To Master Glucose Response and Avoid Disease: Carlee Hayes
How To Use A Continuous Glucose Monitor To Master Glucose Response and Avoid Disease: Carlee Hayes

We talk about tracking blood glucose and why it's important to see your individual glucose response to meals, stress, exercise, and even during sleep.

Podcast
74
min
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Understanding Blood Glucose Measuring For Fat Loss and More on Keto & Carnivore with Kara Collier
Understanding Blood Glucose Measuring For Fat Loss and More on Keto & Carnivore with Kara Collier

This episode is about how to understand blood glucose numbers for fat loss on Keto & Carnivore with Kara Collier, RDN, CNSC.

Podcast
73
min
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Hack Your Goals with Continuous Blood Glucose Monitoring (CGM)
Hack Your Goals with Continuous Blood Glucose Monitoring (CGM)

Achieve Your Goals with Continuous Blood Glucose Monitoring: Kara Collier, RDN, LDN, CNSC. Nutrisense Director of Nutrition.

Kara is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), Licensed Dietitian/Nutritionist (LDN), and Certified Nutrition Support Clinician (CNSC) who specializes in glucose control and metabolism. She graduated from Purdue University and previously worked at Memphis VA Medical Center, as a clinical dietitian at Providence Hospital, and in a management role at Nutritionix.

Podcast
76
min
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The Power of Monitoring Glucose Levels with Kara Collier
The Power of Monitoring Glucose Levels with Kara Collier

Kara Collier is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Nutrition Support Clinician with a background in clinical nutrition, nutrition technology, and entrepreneurship.

Podcast
73
min
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The Power of Monitoring Glucose Levels
The Power of Monitoring Glucose Levels

Kara Collier is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Nutrition Support Clinician with a background in clinical nutrition, nutrition technology, and entrepreneurship. After becoming frustrated with the traditional healthcare system, she helped start the company NutriSense where she is now the Director of Nutrition. Kara is the leading authority on the use of continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) technology, particularly in non-diabetics for the purposes of health optimization, disease prevention, and reversing metabolic dysfunction. Kara oversees the health team and product development and has personally interpreted thousands of complex glucose datasets.

Podcast
58
min
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Optimizing Health Through Continuous Glucose Monitoring
Optimizing Health Through Continuous Glucose Monitoring

Metabolic health involves staying within a controlled glucose level and avoiding repeated “swings” in your glucose levels.

Podcast
50
min
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Continuous Glucose Monitors for healthy individuals looking to improve their glucose stability
Continuous Glucose Monitors for healthy individuals looking to improve their glucose stability

Information from Kara Collier about glucose and sleep: how are those two things connected, and what can we glean from monitoring this area related to improving sleep?

Podcast
48
min
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Optimizing Your Health Using NutriSense Continuous Glucose Monitoring with Carlee Hayes
Optimizing Your Health Using NutriSense Continuous Glucose Monitoring with Carlee Hayes

In this episode, Dr. Renee is joined by Lead Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Nutrisense Continuous Glucose Monitoring, Carlee Hayes, as they take a deep dive into monitoring

Podcast
45
min
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The Lowdown on the NutriSense Continuous Glucose Monitor
The Lowdown on the NutriSense Continuous Glucose Monitor

Listen in to hear the breakdown on who this CGM is good for, who it’s NOT good for, and how it can be a beneficial step to help some who are looking to take their established healt

Podcast
42
min
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What Glucose Data Says About Your Health
What Glucose Data Says About Your Health

In this episode, we sit down with Kara Collier from NutriSense to discuss continuous glucose monitors (CGM).

Podcast
41
min
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The Change Maker! Kara Collier on The Surprising Benefits of Healthy Blood Sugar Levels
The Change Maker! Kara Collier on The Surprising Benefits of Healthy Blood Sugar Levels

The latest in nutrition, exercise, and dietary supplements. Guests include world record holders, documentary film makers, best selling authors, and health experts from all...

Podcast
34
min
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NutriSense Discusses CGMs on Nourish Balance Thrive Podcast
NutriSense Discusses CGMs on Nourish Balance Thrive Podcast

Kara from NutriSense joins the Nourish Balance Thrive Podcast with Christopher Kelly to explain why everyone should wear a CGM at least once

Podcast
27
min
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NutriSense is the very best
NutriSense is the very best

Dan and Kara from Nutrisense talk to Kyle Kingsbury about all things health and CGM technology.

Podcast
23
min
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Tips to Balance Blood Sugar and Optimize Metabolic Health - Part 2
Tips to Balance Blood Sugar and Optimize Metabolic Health - Part 2

Welcome to the second part of our metabolic health episode! Here you’ll learn more strategies to support your insulin and blood sugar levels.

Podcast
20
min
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Rusty Humphries Weight Loss - lessons learned
Rusty Humphries Weight Loss - lessons learned

On this episode of The Nisha Jackson Podcast, Nisha talks with co-host Rusty Humphries about his successful weight loss journey of 30+ pounds and improving.

Podcast
22
min
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NutraCast: NutriSense on glucose monitoring
NutraCast: NutriSense on glucose monitoring

NutraCast's Danielle Masterson speaks with NutriSense Director of Nutrition, Kara Collier, on the benefits of Continuous Glucose Monitoring (CGM) technology and the NutriSense app.

Podcast
18
min
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NutriSense CEO Alex Skryl on Bootstrapping In America
NutriSense CEO Alex Skryl on Bootstrapping In America

Some of the most interesting stories around are from entrepreneurs willing to take an idea and turn it into a business...

Podcast
14
min
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STOP making losing weight so hard!
STOP making losing weight so hard!

We will dive into how to not make every attempt at weight loss so hard, it really shouldn't be… and you truly have the control over this.⠀

Podcast
24
min
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14 Weight loss tips
14 Weight loss tips

14 tips to help you get the weight loss momentum going and provide you with a guide to lose weight and keep it off.⠀

Podcast
54
min
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Can Continuous Glucose Monitoring Support Your Health Goals?
Can Continuous Glucose Monitoring Support Your Health Goals?

Blood glucose holds keys to many important health markers including metabolic health, insulin levels, and our risk for chronic disease.

Podcast
57
min
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Learn to Better Regulate Blood Sugar All Day Long
Learn to Better Regulate Blood Sugar All Day Long

We're back with a brand new interview on our Conversations with Cabral podcast that centers on the topic on of controlling blood sugar for maximum body transformation and wellness results!   I’ve invited Kara Collier, co-founder of NutriSense, to share what she has learned from thousands of customers’ data wearing continuous glucose monitors…   For all the details on learning how to better regulate blood sugar all day long tune into today’s #CabralConcept 2099 - Enjoy the show and let @KaraCollier1 and me know what you thought in the comments!