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Thyroid-associated ophthalmopathy: a practical guide to classification, natural history and management

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Thyroid−associated ophthalmopathy (TAO) is an autoimmune disorder that can be divided into three clinical subtypes: congestive, myopathic and mixed ophthalmopathy. It is probably caused by immune cross-reactivity between orbital and thyroid antigens. The best candidate antigens are the thyrotropin receptor and the novel protein, G2s, which is now identified as a fragment of the winged helix transcription factor, FOXP1. The relationship between radioiodine therapy and TAO is controversial, with two randomised controlled trials showing a transient worsening of the eye disease after treatment. The diagnosis of TAO is a clinical one, based on the presence of specific symptoms and signs. Orbital imaging, preferably magnetic resonance imaging, is useful when the diagnosis is in doubt and in patients with suspected optic neuropathy who may benefit from early intervention. Despite their lack of specificity, orbital antibodies may add weight to the diagnosis and may potentially be a useful tool in classifying the different subtypes of TAO and in monitoring disease activity. While antibodies against G2s and the thyrotropin receptor are seen in all subtypes, those against Fp and collagen XIII may be associated with the myopathic and congestive subtypes, respectively, where Fp is the flavoprotein subunit of the mitochondrial enzyme, succinate dehydrogenase. In most patients, TAO is self-limiting and no specific treatment is required. When treatment is indicated, glucocorticoids are the mainstay of therapy. Orbital radiotherapy improves the efficacy of glucocorticoids, but is probably less beneficial as monotherapy. Orbital surgery is best reserved for patients with ‘burnt out’ inactive disease, but urgent orbital decompression may be required for optic neuropathy. The severity and clinical activity of TAO are important in determining the need for specific treatment and the likelihood of success with medical therapy, respectively. (Intern Med J 2004; 34: 482−491)
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Keywords: Graves’ disease; autoimmunity; ophthalmopathy; orbit; ­autoantibodies

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Clinical and Biomedical Sciences, Barwon Health, The University of Melbourne, Geelong and 2: Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics Unit, Department of Medicine, Austin and Repatriation Medical Centre, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Publication date: 2004-08-01

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