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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

  • Double Vision

    May 22, 2015, 5:20 a.m.

    Kathy, I am wondering if your intermittent esotropia is migraine related. I did see some cases in the...

  • Double Vision

    May 21, 2015, 3:34 p.m.

    I am new to the forum and mostly I'm concerned about my double vision, which at this point is off to the...

  • Patient Outreach Event - May 16th in Nashville, TN!

    May 20, 2015, 2 p.m.

    Many thanks for the kind words! It was great to meet you - I'm so glad that you found the meeting helpful....

  • Total Thyroidectomy, still Hyper?

    May 18, 2015, 8:30 p.m.

    Ellen, I realize you are giving some anecdotal stories of the experiences of other people. So there is lots...

  • Double Vision

    May 18, 2015, 5:49 p.m.

    I have severe TED, too. I did a lot of reading, and unfortunately I didn't come across any credible sources...

  • Patient Outreach Event - May 16th in Nashville, TN!

    May 17, 2015, 7:19 p.m.

    Hi Kimberly! I just wanted to drop in and thank you for the event in Nashville. You may not have gotten the...

  • Double Vision

    May 17, 2015, 4:36 p.m.

    Unfortunately, I have not heard of double vision getting better on its' own. Everything Liz1967, said i agree...

  • Cancer and Graves Disease

    May 17, 2015, 2:13 a.m.

    Snelsen, In response to some of your Q's.. 1. Like yourself, I reside on the West Coast, North. 2. I am in my...

  • Double Vision

    May 16, 2015, 5:56 a.m.

    I have Graves eye disease with double vision and mine did not get better. It stopped getting worse after...

  • Double Vision

    May 15, 2015, 5:22 p.m.

    Hi there, I just found this website today and have been reading the posts. Last August I had small bumps...

  • Total Thyroidectomy, still Hyper?

    May 15, 2015, 9:53 a.m.

    Hello, I have not had a thyroidectomy for Graves’ disease so I cannot speak from my own experience. However,...

  • New Graves' Diagnosis

    May 12, 2015, 5:57 p.m.

    Hi Kimmy, You've found just the place for support and encouragement, just when we need it most. Reading your...

  • Patient Outreach Event - May 16th in Nashville, TN!

    May 12, 2015, 4:33 p.m.

    One last bump…please join us if you are in the Nashville area!

  • Please Read - Bulletin Board Coverage Until May 20th

    May 12, 2015, 4:32 p.m.

    Hi all - Please note that the forum will have limited coverage until Wednesday, May 20th. Newly registered...

  • New Graves' Diagnosis

    May 12, 2015, 9:45 a.m.

    Hello and welcome! Here are a few thoughts… 1. Symptom relief is very individual. Some patients will...

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