Living with Graves' disease: what do I need to know?

Roland Gärtner, thyroid expert at the Ludwig Maximilians University Hospital in Munich, explains in an interview what those affected should consider when dealing with thyroid disease

Professor Gärtner, you deal with patients who suffer from Graves' disease on a daily basis. What advice and rules do you give those affected?

It depends a lot on what stage of the disease you are in. Graves' disease is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system incorrectly makes antibodies against the TSH receptor in the thyroid. These so-called TRAk cause more thyroid hormones to be produced. This means that those affected have an overactive thyroid gland - hyperthyroidism - which is usually treated with anti-thyroid drugs. The only critical factor is actually the period of time until the hormone levels have normalized again during therapy with these drugs.

What do those affected have to consider in this phase?

One symptom of hyperthyroidism is an accelerated heartbeat. Patients should therefore refrain from drinking caffeinated drinks and exercise a certain degree of caution. If the heart beats too fast, sick people get a beta blocker that brings the heart rate into the normal range. If that is the case, they can do sports - to a reasonable extent and according to the motto: exercise, yes, but not overexert. A marathon doesn't have to be, but jogging, swimming and cycling are not a problem.