Graves' Disease

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Hyperthyroidism Pictures Slideshow: Keep Your Thyroid in Check

What could happen if Graves' disease is not treated?

Without treatment, Graves' disease can lead to heart problems, weak and brittle bones, and even death. "Thyroid storm" is a very rare, life-threatening condition that can occur if overactive thyroid is not treated. An acute stress, such as trauma, surgery, or infection, usually triggers it to occur. In pregnant women, untreated disease can threaten the mother and unborn baby's health.

Does pregnancy affect the thyroid?

Normal hormone changes during pregnancy cause thyroid hormone levels to increase. The thyroid also may enlarge slightly in healthy women during pregnancy, but not enough to be felt. These changes do not affect the pregnancy or unborn baby. Yet, untreated thyroid problems can threaten pregnancy and the growing baby. Symptoms of normal pregnancy, like fatigue and feeling hot, can make it easy to overlook thyroid problems in pregnancy. So if you have symptoms of overactive thyroid or notice a goiter, make sure to tell your doctor.

Do I need a thyroid test if I become pregnant?

Experts have not reached agreement on whether all pregnant women should be routinely screened for thyroid problems. Graves' disease rarely begins during pregnancy. Most women diagnosed with Graves' disease during pregnancy had symptoms of an overactive thyroid before getting pregnant.

I have Graves' disease and want to have a baby. What should I do before I try to become pregnant?

Women who have been treated for Graves' disease can become pregnant. But make sure your pregnancy is planned. Graves' disease must be well-controlled before you get pregnant. This is because untreated or poorly treated Graves' disease can lead to problems for the mother, such as:

  • Preeclampsia (pree-ee-CLAMP-see-uh)
  • Preterm birth
  • Placental abruption
  • Miscarriage
  • Heart failure

Untreated or poorly treated Graves' disease also can cause health problems for the baby, such as:

  • Thyroid problems
  • Preterm birth
  • Low birth weight
  • Stillbirth

Talk to your doctor about how to prepare for pregnancy or about birth control if you do not want to become pregnant. If you take antithyroid drugs and want to get pregnant, ask your doctor about treatment with radioactive iodine (RAI). Women treated with RAI at least 6 months before pregnancy don't need antithyroid drugs and can avoid exposing the unborn baby. If you have had RAI to treat Graves' disease, you should wait at least 6 months before getting pregnant. Your doctor also will need to watch your baby for thyroid-related problems that can occur later in the pregnancy.

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