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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

  • Graves antibodies, TED and levothyroxine

    March 20, 2019, 3:02 p.m.

    Hello and welcome - hopefully, those who have had RAI and also those who have been through eye surgery can...

  • Graves antibodies, TED and levothyroxine

    March 19, 2019, 10:11 a.m.

    Hello. I’m new to this group and based in the UK. I have read with interest posts on TED and surgery - I am...

  • Going off methimazole expectations

    March 19, 2019, 9:30 a.m.

    Hello - Both are antibody tests, but TSI measures stimulating antibodies only, while TRAb picks up all...

  • Going off methimazole expectations

    March 18, 2019, 10:32 a.m.

    Kimberly - could you explain more about the TSI and TRAb? I am still struggling with feeling...

  • Links between thyroid, cholesterol, diabetes

    March 8, 2019, 3:35 a.m.

    They still say further research is needed in that article. I hope someone's on it. haha

  • Feels like PMS all the time

    March 1, 2019, 2:39 p.m.

    Hi. I'm a blast from the past, and it's so good to see Kimberly still here and running this place. Thank you...

  • Nails

    March 1, 2019, 11:55 a.m.

    I did find this : https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29780134 and this:...

  • Nails

    March 1, 2019, 11:25 a.m.

    i have had the same thing on my left big toenail since Graves began, even when on methimazole for the first 6...

  • Nails

    March 1, 2019, 8:17 a.m.

    Hello and welcome - hopefully, others here can chime in with their experiences. I do know that being hyper or...

  • Orbital Decompression

    March 1, 2019, 4:15 a.m.

    It is not as bad as you are anticipating. You might have two uncomfortable postop days. If you do not do it...

  • Nails

    March 1, 2019, 3:51 a.m.

    Has anyone had any trouble with the finger nails and toe nails. I had my thyroid removed in 2007 after a...

  • Feels like PMS all the time

    Feb. 28, 2019, 7:33 p.m.

    I lost up to 20 pounds over several years before a doctor finally suspected thyroid problems and began the...

  • Orbital Decompression

    Feb. 28, 2019, 4:05 p.m.

    Hello - I've not had an OD, but we've heard many success stories from patients who have. Having an...

  • Orbital Decompression

    Feb. 28, 2019, 10:21 a.m.

    Hi all - I am getting ready to schedule the orbital decompression and I am scared to death - almost scared...

  • Feels like PMS all the time

    Feb. 25, 2019, 8:41 a.m.

    Hello - Like Liz1967, I've not heard of this as a side effect of levothyroxine. Have you started or stopped...

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