Diffuse Toxic Goiter (Graves Disease) Treatment & Management

Updated: Jul 27, 2015
  • Author: Bernard Corenblum, MD, FRCPC; Chief Editor: George T Griffing, MD  more...
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Medical Care

Even though the natural history of diffuse toxic goiter is to possibly spontaneously remit (and perhaps later relapse), or even progress into hypothyroidism, observation without intervention, even in minimally symptomatic people, is not recommended. The risk of bone loss and atrial fibrillation occur, especially in older women and men, even in subclinical cases.

The goals of therapy are to resolve hyperthyroid symptoms and to restore the euthyroid state.

Each therapeutic choice has advantages and disadvantages, so treatment should be individualized. Patient input into the treatment choice is important and must be discussed and considered. The American Thyroid Association and American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists have released guidelines for the management of hyperthyroid and other causes of thyrotoxicosis, including the use of radioactive iodine or surgery to treat toxic multinodular goiter. [1]

Therapy may be by subtotal thyroidectomy, administration of radioiodine, antithyroid drugs, or a combination of these. In North America, radioiodine is the most common treatment and is available for all ages. Adjunctive symptomatic therapy, such as beta-blockers, may help adrenergic symptoms. Nonsurgical therapy occurs in the outpatient setting. Surgical therapy requires first normalization of the hyperthyroid state by medication.

Cardiac decompensation or arrhythmias may require hospitalization.

Thyroid storm is a rare emergency requiring intensive care support and therapy.


Surgical Care

Subtotal thyroidectomy may be considered if it is the choice of the patient, second trimester of pregnancy, failure (resistance or intolerance) of drug therapy, or poor compliance to drug therapy. Risks are low with experienced surgeons but include anesthetic risks, hemorrhage, hypoparathyroidism, and vocal cord paralysis. Patients should be made euthyroid prior to surgery to minimize anesthetic risks, cardiovascular/hemodynamic complications, and risk of thyroid storm. If normalizing with antithyroid drugs is not possible, then beta-blockers and potassium iodide 4 drops/day for 10 days will decrease vascularity of the thyroid gland.



Oculopathy usually requires ophthalmologic consultation, and dermopathy may require dermatologic consultation.



Diet must include caloric intake to meet the energy expenditure of the hypermetabolism. High iodine-containing substances, such as kelp, should be avoided.



Physical activity is limited by the presence of symptoms, until recovery occurs. Usually, shortness of breath on exertion, fatigue, and palpitations are the limiting symptoms.