Endocrinologists and Their Role in TED

Last updated: May 2022

Thyroid eye disease (TED) is an autoimmune disorder. In TED, your body mistakes healthy cells behind your eyes for foreign invader cells and attacks them. Your immune system can attack your thyroid for the same reason. 1

TED can be linked to both overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) and underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism). Up to half of people with Graves’ disease will develop TED in their life. Graves' disease is an autoimmune disease that results in hyperthyroidism. Plus, women are up to 5 times more likely than men to develop TED. With such a high frequency, it is important that doctors are ready to take care of people with TED.1,2

People with TED can have a range of doctors as a part of their care team. These doctors work in different areas in order to give people with TED the best treatment possible. This can include TED specialists, eye doctors, and endocrinologists.1

What is an endocrinologist?

Endocrinologists are doctors who specialize in the hormonal (endocrine) system. Hormones are the body’s messengers – they let one part of the body talk to another part. An endocrinologist’s job is to diagnose and treat hormone-related problems.3

Endocrinologists do not just help with thyroid eye disease. They can treat issues from osteoporosis to reproductive health problems. They can work on one condition or help people with their endocrine system as a whole. Many diseases involve the endocrine system even if they do not begin there. Plus, many endocrine diseases affect other parts of the body, like in TED.2,3

Endocrinologists are not the only members of the care team for a person with TED. But they are very important to diagnosing, monitoring, and treating TED. And they are especially important for people with TED with thyroid-related issues.3

How do endocrinologists help people with thyroid eye disease?

Because endocrinologists look at hormone imbalances, they help to understand and treat the hormonal side of TED. They look at the thyroid and the levels of thyroid hormones in people with TED.1,4

Endocrinologists can begin by looking at a person’s thyroid status and risk factors for TED. They look at thyroid hormone levels. Hyperthyroidism, like in Graves’ disease, means thyroid hormone levels are too high. Hypothyroidism, like in Hashimoto’s disease, means thyroid levels are too low. Endocrinologists can see both of these through blood tests.1-4

Mostly, endocrinologists focus on making sure the thyroid can function normally in a stable way. This is because of the direct link between thyroid function and eye issues in TED.4

Depending on thyroid activity, endocrinologists can recommend lifestyle changes, medicine, surgery, or other paths to improve TED. For example, quitting smoking can possibly help slow TED progression. Taking medicine can help to increase or decrease thyroid hormone levels.1,3,4

An endocrinologist will work with other doctors to find what is best for you. They are not TED specialists themselves. However, they often work with people with Hashimoto’s or Graves’ disease, which can be linked to TED. Along with eye specialists, TED specialists, and your primary care doctor, endocrinologists are one part of a well-rounded care team for TED.3,4

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