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About Graves' Disease

Graves’ disease often does not get the attention needed from medical professionals, perhaps because it is rarely fatal. However, Graves' must be treated to avoid complications such as bone/muscle wasting, heart problems, and thyroid storm – a very serious, life-threatening event.  The condition is serious for the millions of individuals who at times, are having problems with their thyroid and experience extreme highs and lows physically and emotionally. The impact on their personalities as they struggle with Graves’ can severely strain their relationship with family and friends.

Graves' disease is an autoimmune disease

Diseases of the immune system have a genetic predisposition. In a normal body, the immune system defends itself against germs and viruses. Other examples of autoimmune disease include Type I diabetes, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus erythematosis, psoriasis, and celiac disease.  Autoimmune diseases can affect different parts of the body. 

Graves' disease and hyperthyroidism

Graves’ disease, also known as toxic diffuse goiter, is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism - a disorder that occurs when the thyroid gland makes more thyroid hormone than the body needs.

The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland in the front of the neck below the larynx, or voice box. The thyroid gland makes two thyroid hormones, triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). Thyroid hormones affect metabolism, brain development, breathing, heart and nervous system functions, body temperature, muscle strength, skin dryness, menstrual cycles, weight, cholesterol levels, and emotional & cognitive functions.

Thyroid hormone production is regulated by another hormone called thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which is made by the pituitary gland located in the brain.

In Graves’ disease, the immune system makes antibodies called thyroid-stimulating immunoglobulin (TSI) that attach to thyroid cells. TSI mimics the action of TSH and stimulates the thyroid to make too much thyroid hormone. Sometimes the antibodies can instead block thyroid hormone production, leading to a confusing clinical picture.

Eye and Skin Involvement

Patients with Graves’ disease may experience some level of eye involvement, requiring consultation with an experienced ophthalmologist.  Symptoms can include dry eyes, swelling, redness, eyelid retraction, and a “gritty” sensation.  Less common complications include bulging (proptosis), double vision, and compression of the optic nerve.  Symptoms typically progress and then stabilize over a period of 2-3 years.  For more serious complications, surgical options are available to restore eye function and appearance.

Very occasionally, Graves’ patients develop a lumpy reddish thickening of the skin in front of the shins known as pretibial myxedema.  This condition is usually diagnosed and treated by a dermatologist.

Graves' disease - Fast Facts

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) provides the following statistics:

  • Graves’ Disease affects approximately 2 to 3% of the population or almost 10 million people. The figure may be higher because some may have eye involvement but not diagnosed with thyroid problems.
  • Graves' is five to 10 times more common in women than men.
  • Graves' usually occurs in middle age, but also occurs in children, adolescents and the elderly.

Recent News

Recent Forum Posts

  • daughters thyroid issues

    Oct. 12, 2015, 3:03 p.m.

    npatterson, This sounds just like me. I had RAI 17 years ago and almost immediately (within 10 days) began...

  • Graves Disease Diet

    Oct. 12, 2015, 7:32 a.m.

    Hello, As a fellow Graves patient and definitely not a medical professional, I also urge caution about...

  • Success with diet changes?

    Oct. 8, 2015, 6:32 p.m.

    My experience is that diet should be what you like to eat, as long as you are already eating a healthy diet....

  • TENTATIVE - Support Group Meeting in Las Vegas, NV

    Oct. 7, 2015, 9:45 a.m.

    Hi all - The GDATF is hoping to host a support group meeting in Las Vegas on Thursday, November 12th in...

  • daughters thyroid issues

    Oct. 7, 2015, 7:08 a.m.

    Vicky, I was able to reach the specialist at the University of Michigan. I will see her at the meeting in...

  • Remission

    Oct. 6, 2015, noon

    Hello - “Remission” is often defined by doctors as a period of one year or more with no meds, where your...

  • Success with diet changes?

    Oct. 6, 2015, 11:55 a.m.

    Hello - Hopefully others will chime in with their experiences. Personally, I did a fairly strict diet for the...

  • Remission

    Oct. 6, 2015, 12:18 a.m.

    I was diagnosed with Graves in 2010 and have been on Tapazole ever since. How do I know if I'm in remission....

  • Another #greaterthangraves story

    Oct. 5, 2015, 5:51 p.m.

    Love reading this. It gives me hope. For many years I was a runner, completing many 5Ks a smattering of 10Ks...

  • Success with diet changes?

    Oct. 5, 2015, 5:46 p.m.

    Almost 2 years post diagnosis, I am nearing the decision to have thyroidectomy, but need to wait until after...

  • Another #greaterthangraves story

    Oct. 1, 2015, 12:02 p.m.

    Triple congratulations You are an inspiration!

  • daughters thyroid issues

    Oct. 1, 2015, 9:06 a.m.

    Vicky, I just sent you a private message. Your daughter needs an endocrinologist who SPEIALIZES in thyroid...

  • Another #greaterthangraves story

    Sept. 30, 2015, 6:14 p.m.

    Adding my Congratulations, too - amazing achievement! Good of you to check back in here, with such...

  • to have ablation treatment?

    Sept. 29, 2015, 7:30 p.m.

    I had a total thyroidectomy because I also have the eye disease and the vast majority of docs will not do RAI...

  • to have ablation treatment?

    Sept. 29, 2015, 12:52 p.m.

    Hi Debbo, I am an infrequent poster but just posted an update today, so go ahead and read it. I had RAI...

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