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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

  • New to Graves

    May 27, 2015, 3:39 a.m.

    Consider having a total thyroidectomy. There is less risk for causing eye problems and for me it was quick...

  • New to Graves

    May 26, 2015, 7:34 p.m.

    Thanks for the welcome Kimberly. We do have urgent care here but the wait times can be ridiculous. I did get...

  • Cancer and Graves Disease

    May 26, 2015, 5:07 p.m.

    Hello - If I was planning a visit to Arizona, I would *not* do it in the summer. People say “it's a dry...

  • Cancer and Graves Disease

    May 26, 2015, 3:08 p.m.

    Hi Kimberly, Hope you had a wonderful Memorial Day Weekend. Thank you for the link. I am aware of...

  • New to Graves

    May 26, 2015, 12:54 p.m.

    Hello and welcome! We are fellow patients here, not doctors, but I would have the mass checked out just for...

  • 5:2 / Intermittent Fasting

    May 26, 2015, 12:49 p.m.

    Hello - I haven't seen much on this from credible sources, but this is an article from the UK's National...

  • Cancer and Graves Disease

    May 26, 2015, 12:44 p.m.

    Hello - I would use extreme caution before pursuing bee-venom therapy. Here is a link from a credible source:...

  • am I psycho need a mental ward...please help

    May 25, 2015, 7:07 p.m.

    Briefly.. to Kathy-good questions with complex answers. And with the usual reminder that we are fellow...

  • am I psycho need a mental ward...please help

    May 25, 2015, 11:06 a.m.

    I am so sorry to read, snelsen (Shirley), about what you have gone through. I guess my questions are, can...

  • New to Graves

    May 25, 2015, 9:15 a.m.

    I'm so glad to have found this forum. I am a Canadian who was diagnosed with graves about 5 weeks ago. I'm...

  • 5:2 / Intermittent Fasting

    May 24, 2015, 1:30 p.m.

    Hello! I am writing to ask if anyone else has noticed improved thyroid function with fasting. I have had...

  • Cancer and Graves Disease

    May 24, 2015, 1:27 a.m.

    Dear Shirley, Thank you so much for your attentiveness and sharing with me your medical challenges. I am so...

  • Cancer and Graves Disease

    May 23, 2015, 9:54 p.m.

    Holy Cow, Allie! Thank you for writing clarifications. I am s o glad you are being followed by end and...

  • Cancer and Graves Disease

    May 23, 2015, 6:36 p.m.

    I had several appointments last week with a Cardiologist assigned to my case via my Endocrinologist. They are...

  • Double Vision

    May 23, 2015, 5:30 a.m.

    Thanks, Liz. I'm one of those who has a really hard time with prednisone. Its been a real struggle. Neither...

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