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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

  • TT and eye disease symptoms

    July 28, 2016, 8:43 p.m.

    Just realized I began Synthroid replacement in 1986. So it was a bit less than 30 years between subtotal...

  • TT and eye disease symptoms

    July 28, 2016, 8:40 p.m.

    Yep. I made a mistake in my post. They did leave a teeny tiny bit of thyroid tissue, but that was in 1959,...

  • I hate Graves Disease

    July 28, 2016, 6:41 p.m.

    @Sandy40 - Links here can only be posted from specific sources; below is an excerpt from our forum guidelines...

  • TT and eye disease symptoms

    July 28, 2016, 3:01 p.m.

    Subtotal thyroidectomies leave tissue that can cause problems down the road. These were commonly done in the...

  • TT and eye disease symptoms

    July 28, 2016, 2:26 p.m.

    To green: I got eye symptoms and TED 50 years after my thyroidectomy. So, for me..no. TT did not affect my...

  • TT and eye disease symptoms

    July 28, 2016, noon

    I was diagnosed with Graves disease in Aug 2015. Although I did not have my thyroid taken out I did have the...

  • I hate Graves Disease

    July 28, 2016, 2:41 a.m.

    Thank you Kimberley and Emmtee , I can see that many people feel better after a thyroidectomy, I am so afraid...

  • I hate Graves Disease

    July 28, 2016, 2:13 a.m.

    After four years on anti-thyroid medication, I finally had a thyroidectomy last fall. It was something I'd...

  • TT and eye disease symptoms

    July 27, 2016, 4:57 p.m.

    Here is just one study, there are lots more. The Effect of Early Thyroidectomy on the Course of Active...

  • TT and eye disease symptoms

    July 27, 2016, 4:53 p.m.

    Hello - I'm aware of one study out of University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center that indicated that...

  • TT and eye disease symptoms

    July 27, 2016, 3:48 p.m.

    Hello all, I have head different opinions on this topic from different doctors. What have you heard and...

  • I hate Graves Disease

    July 27, 2016, 12:10 p.m.

    Sandy40 Thank you for your advise, I have asked multiple times, gone to several doctors and due to my age 40...

  • I hate Graves Disease

    July 26, 2016, 4:25 p.m.

    Thank you for your advise, I have asked multiple times, gone to several doctors and due to my age 40 they...

  • I hate Graves Disease

    July 26, 2016, 9:58 a.m.

    Sandy40 I am now considering extreme radical measures to deal with these hormones but I will give...

  • I hate Graves Disease

    July 26, 2016, 4:35 a.m.

    Sandy40, just my opinion, but if I had all those problems, thyroid would be gone! Post surgical...

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© 2016 Graves' Disease & Thyroid Foundation