Graves' Disease - Treatment

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How is your Graves' disease treated? What medications do you take?

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How is Graves' disease treated?

There are 3 main treatments for Graves' disease:

  • Antithyroid medicine. Two drugs are used in the United States:
  • Methimazole (meh-THEYE-muh-zohl), or MMI (brand name, Tapazole)
  • Propylthiouracil (PROH-puhl-theye-oh-YUR-uh-sil), or PTU

These drugs keep the thyroid from making too much thyroid hormone. MMI is the preferred drug for most non-pregnant people. These drugs are generally not used for more than 1 or 2 years. For some people, thyroid function returns to normal when the drugs are stopped. But for most people, the overactive thyroid comes back.

  • Radioactive iodine (RAI). The thyroid gland uses iodine to make thyroid hormone. With this treatment, you swallow a pill that contains RAI, which is a form of iodine that damages the thyroid by giving it radiation. The RAI destroys thyroid cells so that less thyroid hormone is made. This cures the overactive thyroid. But you will likely need to take thyroid hormone for the rest of your life to replace the needed thyroid hormone your body can no longer make. RAI has been used for a long time and does not harm other parts of the body or causeinfertility or birth defects.
  • Surgery. Most or all the thyroid is removed. As with RAI, surgery cures overactive thyroid. But you will need to take thyroid hormone to replace the needed thyroid hormone your body can no longer make.

Besides one of these 3 treatments, your doctor might also suggest you take a type of drug called a beta-blocker. Beta-blockers do not affect how much thyroid hormone is made. Rather, they block the action of thyroid hormone on your body. This slows down your heart rate and reduces symptoms such as shaking and nervousness. Beta-blockers work quickly and can help you feel better while waiting for the main treatment to take effect.

The treatment that is best for you will depend on many factors. Antithyroid drugs and RAI or a mix of both often are preferred. During and after treatment, your doctor will want to monitor your thyroid hormone levels. Ask how often you need to be seen for follow-up visits.

Return to Graves' Disease

See what others are saying

Comment from: jmb, 55-64 Female (Patient) Published: March 04

I had been on methimazole 5mg daily s' disease, for 5 years. Then my endocrinologist dropped me to 2.5 a day. This new endocrinologist took me off it totally in November. I feel like awful. I have gained weight, am cold all the time. I have chills at night and am achy. I asked her if I could go back on my medications. She did blood work and reported my thyroid is functioning. I have a goiter. I give up.

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Comment from: Mom2, 25-34 Female (Patient) Published: April 25

I was diagnosed with Graves' disease 3 weeks ago and I flat out told my doctor I was not taking any medication that would cause me to gain weight. I cannot take the radioactive iodine (RAI) because I have two young children. I"ve seen the women in my family go from a size 2 to a size 12 in a short amount of time and I have hidden my body image disorder that I have been treating for over 15 years. I saw a surgeon this morning and will be having surgery in 2 weeks. My thoughts are, 90% of people who have Graves' disease are stuck taking anti-thyroid medications for 18 to 20 months before either the disease goes into remission or it requires surgery. I was firm with my doctor and said if I was most likely going to have surgery, then do it now. Either way you"re on a thyroid medication for most of your life anyway, why not be the one that doesn"t make you gain weight. Stop suffering and take charge of your health; you"re the patient, speak up and be honest.

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