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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


    March 6, 2015, 2:16 p.m.

    hi thanks for your reply. i was told i had graves and i was told that i was hypo, when i search the internet...

  • Waiting for Test results on Graves Disease. Kind of scared

    March 6, 2015, 12:52 p.m.

    The doc sent me my Thyroglobulin Antibodies results: THYROGLOBULIN ANTIBODIES <1 Range: <=1 IU/mL...


    March 6, 2015, 10:50 a.m.

    Hello and welcome - We are fellow patients here, not doctors, but that's certainly a puzzle why you were...

  • Waiting for Test results on Graves Disease. Kind of scared

    March 6, 2015, 10:44 a.m.

    Hello - It would be helpful for you to get a hard copy of your labs so that you can see for yourself where...


    March 6, 2015, 7:51 a.m.

    Hi guys, would love to know if anyone can answer my question. . i had the racing heart, was in the hospital...

  • Waiting for Test results on Graves Disease. Kind of scared

    March 6, 2015, 4:41 a.m.

    I found out my T4 reflex came back at .081. They put me on Metrolopol tatra. My shakes and heart rate are...

  • Eye update

    March 5, 2015, 12:35 p.m.

    Glad to hear that the results were so positive - wishing you all the best as you move in to the “home...

  • Waiting for Test results on Graves Disease. Kind of scared

    March 5, 2015, 12:32 p.m.

    Hello and welcome - although Graves’ disease is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism, there are other...

  • Eye update

    March 4, 2015, 8:07 p.m.

    What a wonderful update to read!! Soooo happy for you, as you get another milestone behind you on this...

  • Eye update

    March 4, 2015, 7:42 p.m.

    I'm about two months out from the eye muscle surgery and just had my check up. My eyes are very well aligned,...

  • Waiting for Test results on Graves Disease. Kind of scared

    March 4, 2015, 2:01 p.m.

    I am new here. I have ulcerative colitis and now I may have GD. I am waiting for the complete bloodwork to...

  • Just an update.

    March 2, 2015, 4:52 p.m.

    Flora: Boomer Humour - love it. You're a poet and didn't even know it - lol. I look forward to catching up...

  • Just an update.

    March 1, 2015, 10:56 a.m.

    Hi Ladies, Bumping this up just to see if anyone has caught up with Boomer - some Boomer Humour would be...

  • Limited Bulletin Board Coverage Until Thursday, March 5th

    Feb. 28, 2015, 7:57 p.m.

    Hi all - We will have limited facilitator coverage on the forum until Thursday, March 5th, so responses might...

  • newly diagnosed and a bit confused

    Feb. 27, 2015, 9:16 a.m.

    Hello Justmej I totally understand about having all the doctor's appointments and trying to manage work. I...

Questions? Problems? Please contact us at info@ngdf.org or 877-643-3123.

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© 2015 Graves' Disease & Thyroid Foundation