TED and Autoimmune Disorders

Written by: Katie Murphy | Last reviewed: October 2021 | Last updated: December 2021

Thyroid eye disease (TED) is an autoimmune disease. Autoimmune diseases and disorders occur when the body’s own immune system cannot tell the difference between healthy cells and harmful invaders like germs.1,2

In TED, the body’s own immune system begins to attack the healthy tissue, fat, and muscle behind and near the eyes. The result is inflammation, swelling, and pain in and around the eyes.1

Studies have shown that people who develop TED may also be more likely to develop other autoimmune conditions. This is likely because of genes passed on through families. This leads doctors to think that genes play a role in who get thyroid eye disease.1,3

About 5 out of every 100 people have an autoimmune disorder. About 19 in every 100,000 people have TED.3,4

Which autoimmune disorders might exist with TED?

It is hard for doctors to know exactly how many autoimmune conditions can coexist with TED. This is because both TED and other autoimmune conditions can be misdiagnosed or take longer to diagnose than traditional conditions. However, some autoimmune disorders have been shown to exist more often with TED.

Graves’ disease

Graves’ disease is a condition where the immune system attacks the thyroid gland, causing an excess of thyroid hormone. This leads to increased thyroid function (hyperthyroidism). Many people with TED also have Graves’, but neither disease causes the other.5

Hashimoto’s thyroiditis

Hashimoto’s is a condition where the immune system attacks the thyroid gland, causing decreased function (hypothyroidism). Because the thyroid gland is responsible for metabolism, a decrease in thyroid function slows down many body processes. As a result, common symptoms of Hashimoto’s include weight gain, fatigue, and dry skin.6

Type 1 diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is a condition where the body destroys insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Insulin is needed to let glucose (sugar) into the body’s cells for energy. In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas cannot make insulin. This leads to a buildup of sugar in the blood, which can be life-threatening. Type 1 diabetes was previously known as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes.7

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)

RA is a type of arthritis or inflammation of the joint. In RA, the body attacks the tissues of the joints. This leads to inflammation, joint pain, stiffness, and swelling.8

Psoriasis

Psoriasis (sore-i-uh-sis) is an autoimmune condition that causes inflammation inside the body that appears on the skin. The most common form of psoriasis is plaque psoriasis. Plaque psoriasis shows up as raised, red, dry, and silvery, scale-like patches on the skin.9

Lupus

Lupus is an autoimmune disorder where the immune system attacks healthy tissue of the skin, joints, kidneys, brain, and other organs.10

Vitiligo

Vitiligo (vit-ih-lie-go) affects the pigment cells in the skin. This causes a loss of pigment cells in the skin that appears as patches all over the body.11

How are autoimmune disorders treated?

There are no one-size-fits-all treatment options for autoimmune disorders. Some disorders may require changes to your diet, while others may not. Many autoimmune disorders require new, complex treatments.12

While treatments vary, most autoimmune disorder treatments are centered around decreasing inflammation and pain. Options usually:12

  • Reduce symptoms – Pain killers, anti-inflammatories, and even surgery in some cases can help reduce symptoms in some autoimmune disorders.
  • Replace missing components in the body – Some disorders involve the dysfunction of certain vital hormones in the body. Thyroid dysfunction and diabetes are examples of when treatment involves replacing these hormones.
  • “Turn down” the immune response – Some drugs used for autoimmune disorders turn down or suppress the body’s harmful immune response. Each of these drugs is different and has their own risks and benefits.

Talk to your doctor about your health history and treatment choices. Autoimmune disorders can complicate your care, so seeing a TED specialist is important to make sure you get the right treatment.

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