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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

  • Newly diagnosed and confused

    June 25, 2016, 9:22 a.m.

    Thanks for sharing your experience. I am exploring options. All are scary. My attitude at the present time...

  • On Week 12 and very discouraged

    June 24, 2016, 8 p.m.

    Thank you both. I did lose a lot of weight before being diagnosed. Since being on the meds I have gained 10...

  • Functioning with Graves- the new normal...

    June 24, 2016, 6:49 p.m.

    Kimberly Great info - thanks for sharing your story! …Of course, focusing on nutrient-dense whole...

  • Functioning with Graves- the new normal...

    June 24, 2016, 6:29 p.m.

    Great info - thanks for sharing your story! One note about diet is that there is a LOT of conflicting...

  • Functioning with Graves- the new normal...

    June 23, 2016, 8:45 p.m.

    Hi! I started this thread to hopefully help those new to graves get an idea of what to expect down the road....

  • On Week 12 and very discouraged

    June 23, 2016, 7:09 p.m.

    I agree with Ellen about seeing an ophthalmologist, sooner rather than later. Weight issues, while annoying,...

  • On Week 12 and very discouraged

    June 23, 2016, 6:17 p.m.

    Hello - I know from personal experience that the weight issues are VERY frustrating. However, your #1...

  • On Week 12 and very discouraged

    June 23, 2016, 1:28 p.m.

    Hello, I am going to let other people respond to your question about being able to control your weight while...

  • On Week 12 and very discouraged

    June 23, 2016, 10:51 a.m.

    I am fairly new to being diagnosed with GD. When I was diagnosed I was scared to death. My heart rate was 140...

  • Newly diagnosed and confused

    June 23, 2016, 9:07 a.m.

    Evelyn I am thankful to have found this forum! I have recently been diagnosed with Graves' Dz. My endo's...

  • Newly diagnosed and confused

    June 22, 2016, 12:02 p.m.

    Hello, Today, the success story thread caught my eye. I saw your name Khadijah next to it as having replied...

  • Terrified of Graves

    June 22, 2016, 11:52 a.m.

    If you feel your doctor is brushing you off or ignoring you, it might be time for a new doctor. The first one...

  • Just curious about RAI

    June 22, 2016, 11:38 a.m.

    When I was first diagnosed with GD 9 years ago, the endocrinologist wanted to give me RAI immediately. I...

  • Haven't posted in a very long time

    June 22, 2016, 6:39 a.m.

    Your post is exactly what I needed at this time. A good reminder that this disease takes time to become...

  • TSI - Thyroid Stimulating Immunoglobulins Levels

    June 21, 2016, 8:40 p.m.

    Hello - The antibodies have a fairly long “shelf life”, so my own doc only checks them every few...

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© 2016 Graves' Disease & Thyroid Foundation