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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

  • On Week 12 and very discouraged

    July 20, 2016, 1:22 p.m.

    Hopefully, your doctor is looking at Free T4 and T3 in making dosing decisions. TSH can remain suppressed for...

  • 3 year old with graves

    July 20, 2016, 1:18 p.m.

    Liz1967 Just one study. Methimazole is not a totally innocuous drug. Agranulocytosis is a bone marrow...

  • Iodine questions

    July 19, 2016, 11:14 p.m.

    When I was first diagnosed with Graves', a well-meaning relative suggested that I take an iodine supplement....

  • Iodine questions

    July 19, 2016, 12:35 p.m.

    Hi and welcome to the forum - you'll find lots of help and good information here. Your question caught my...

  • Iodine questions

    July 19, 2016, 10:47 a.m.

    Hello and welcome, I myself have not been diagnosed with hyperthyroidism. However when tested my thyroid...

  • On Week 12 and very discouraged

    July 19, 2016, 5:37 a.m.

    That is very helpful. I am anxious to talk to the dr today. I am feeling very hyper - woke up STARVING! It is...

  • thyroidectomy: what is the rationale and your experience?

    July 19, 2016, 5:28 a.m.

    1. When I was initially diagnosed with Graves' almost 5 years ago, I was leaning toward thyroidectomy because...

  • On Week 12 and very discouraged

    July 18, 2016, 8:19 p.m.

    Oh, so sorry! That TSH must have you feeling miserable! (I think my mood is much worse when my hormone levels...

  • thyroidectomy: what is the rationale and your experience?

    July 18, 2016, 6:01 p.m.

    I had a total thyroidectomy after six months on methimazole. Best decision I ever made. A good surgeon pretty...

  • thyroidectomy: what is the rationale and your experience?

    July 18, 2016, 9:34 a.m.

    Hi everyone, I was wondering if I could get your thoughts. I have been on methimazole and finding the right...

  • On Week 12 and very discouraged

    July 18, 2016, 7:03 a.m.

    I got my blood tests back and my TSH is 15 times what is supposed to be. This explains the weight. I am off...

  • Iodine questions

    July 15, 2016, 4:54 p.m.

    I was diagnosed with Graves' disease two years ago and was put on atd methimazole 20mg. I have recently...

  • 3 year old with graves

    July 15, 2016, 8:42 a.m.

    Hello again, You already have been told about Dr. Scott Rivkees’ videos Here is the link to one of his videos...

  • 3 year old with graves

    July 13, 2016, 11:54 a.m.

    Massive plasmacytosis with severe marrow suppression induced by methimazole in Graves' disease patients: case...

  • 3 year old with graves

    July 13, 2016, 11:33 a.m.

    Receiving conflicting advice does not make it easy for you to choose the best treatment for your daughter....

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

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© 2016 Graves' Disease & Thyroid Foundation