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Missy Elliott has been diagnosed with Graves disease. Her diagnosis sparks a timely discussion on the thyroid disease many African Americans suffer from.

Graves’ disease is the most common form of hyperthyroidism, occurring when your immune system mistakenly attacks your thyroid gland and causes it to overproduce the hormone thyroxine.

This higher thyroxine level can greatly increase your body’s metabolic rate, which may affect you in numerous ways, from your moods to your physical appearance.Graves’ disease is rarely life-threatening. Although it may develop at any age and in either men or women, Graves’ disease is more common in women and usually begins after age 20.

There’s no way to stop your immune system from attacking your thyroid gland, but treatments for Graves’ disease can ease symptoms and decrease the production of thyroxine.

Graves’ disease symptoms may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Fatigue
  • A rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • A fine tremor of your hands or fingers
  • An increase in perspiration
  • Sensitivity to heat
  • Weight loss, despite normal food intake
  • Brittle hair
  • Enlargement of your thyroid gland (goiter)
  • Change in menstrual cycles
  • Frequent bowel movements

There’s no treatment to stop your immune system from producing the antibodies that cause Graves’ disease. Treatments to control the signs and symptoms of Graves’ disease are designed to decrease the production of thyroxine or to block its action. Doctors may prescribe beta blockers or radioactive treatment.