Norman Regional Health System

Thursday, January 14, 2021

From an enlarged neck to sudden weight loss, the symptoms of Graves Disease are troubling. This deadly and debilitating disease can often go undiagnosed and therefore untreated. But a Norman surgeon and his team offer hope for people struggling with this condition.

Tom Connally, MD, is an experienced surgeon who specializes in using minimally invasive techniques to treat disorders of the thyroid gland. He is a member of Oklahoma Surgical Associates and performs surgeries at Norman Regional Hospital and Norman Regional HealthPlex. 

What is Graves Disease

Graves Disease is an autoimmune disease. Autoimmune diseases occur when a person’s immune system begins producing antibodies that attack the body instead of protect it. In the case of Graves Disease, the antibodies attack the thyroid gland. The antibodies cause the thyroid gland to make too much thyroid hormone. This condition is known as hyperthyroidism.

Graves Disease can affect anyone, but it is more common in women than in men.

Complications If Untreated

The complications that results from not getting treated for Graves disease are severe. Complications include heart failure and osteoporosis. One of the most severe complications is an eye issue called Graves Ophthalmopathy or Thyroid Eye Disease. In patients with this condition, eyes become red and inflamed. The eyelids swell and the eyes may also bulge. In very rare cases, a person could lose their vision due to Graves Ophthalmopathy. Dr. Connally said that when a patient has this eye condition, surgery is often recommended to treat Graves Disease. 

Graves Disease is especially harmful to pregnant women. Uncontrolled Graves Disease can result in a greater risk of miscarriage, premature birth, and a baby being born with a low birth weight.

Symptoms of Graves Disease

  • Anxiety or increased irritability
  • Hand tremors
  • Sensitivity to heat
  • Unexplained weight loss

The signs of Graves Disease that may be visible to others are:

  • Puffy or bulging eyes
  • Enlarged thyroid which leads to a bloated looking throat
  • Thick, red skin usually on the shins or tops of the feet

Graves disease can be detected by a physician through blood work. If you feel any strange or concerning changes to your health, please consult your primary care physician. They can help you and may refer you to a specialist if additional testing or treatment is needed.

Surgery for Graves Disease

Dr. Connally is able to treat Graves Disease by removing the entire thyroid gland. Surgery is a permanent solution for those struggling with this condition. It is often recommended after other treatments such as antithyroid medication or radioactive iodine therapy has failed or cannot be tolerated by the patient.

Patients who undergo surgery will need to take medication after their procedure. Complications for the surgery are rare, especially for surgeons such as Dr. Connally who performs this type of surgery regularly. However, there is a risk of bleeding because of the very vascular nature of the gland.

“The key for patients with Graves is to find a surgeon who treats this disease regularly. I would encourage patients to seek out a surgeon with a high volume of these types of cases,” Dr. Connally said.

He also mentioned patients should never be hesitant or afraid to ask their physician or surgeon questions including questions about volumes or outcomes. He said the American Association of Endocrine Surgeons has a list of good questions patients can ask their provider. 

“Patient should never be afraid to ask for a second opinion,” Dr. Connally said.

In most cases, surgery for the disease requires an overnight hospital stay. This is often dependent on the surgery’s finding and the patient’s condition.

The Norman Regional Endocrine Surgery Program uses a team approach working closely with endocrinologists, pathologists, radiologist and nuclear medicine staff to ensure patients receive the highest quality of care. Dr. Connally said he has completed hundreds of cases and patients from all over the nation have traveled to Norman to be treated by him.

Dr. Connally is an active member of the American Association of Endocrine Surgeons. To contact his office or learn more about Dr. Connally, please call 405-329-4102 or click here