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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

  • Thyrotoxic Myopathy

    Aug. 30, 2014, 11 p.m.

    Are you still on methimazole? I still am and I have to wonder whether I would have been better off getting a...

  • Thyrotoxic Myopathy

    Aug. 30, 2014, 3 p.m.

    That's okay! I am 15 months into recovery at this point. I am doing a little bit better, but nowhere close to...

  • Hello...another newbie, to the forum not to graves!

    Aug. 30, 2014, 12:18 a.m.

    Thanks! I had a doctor tell me years ago that my thyroid was still “kicking in” from time to time...

  • Thyrotoxic Myopathy

    Aug. 29, 2014, 1:49 p.m.

    Hi Karen, how've you been doing? I just realized you had a question for me I never replied to in this thread....

  • Eyelid Surgery

    Aug. 29, 2014, 12:29 p.m.

    I have the same problem so I eyes seem to be tearing. This not simply watery but more like a gel at times. I...

  • Thyrotoxic Myopathy

    Aug. 29, 2014, 11:02 a.m.

    Bumping to the top…

  • Thyrotoxic Myopathy and Muscle Weakness

    Aug. 29, 2014, 11:01 a.m.

    Hello - If you are seeking new responses from your thread a few months ago, it's best to “bump”...

  • Hello...another newbie, to the forum not to graves!

    Aug. 29, 2014, 11 a.m.

    Hello and welcome! That's great news that you have finally found a doctor who truly understands Graves'!...

  • Hello...another newbie, to the forum not to graves!

    Aug. 28, 2014, 11:37 p.m.

    Just wanted to say hello and introduce myself. I am 34 years old, live in Las Vegas NV, was diagnosed in Dec...

  • Thyrotoxic Myopathy and Muscle Weakness

    Aug. 28, 2014, 3:48 p.m.

    Has anyone else had a problem with thyrotoxic myopathy, muscle weakness and/or muscle wasting? If so, how...

  • Well, here goes!

    Aug. 27, 2014, 7:21 a.m.

    After only sleeping 4 hrs last night, I finally got up around 6 am and logged on. I read through the entire...

  • swingin from hyper to hypo!

    Aug. 26, 2014, 6:48 p.m.

    I am decades older than you and was diagnosed with Graves in 1998. I went on anti-thyroid meds and hormone...

  • Severity of Graves' disease

    Aug. 26, 2014, 5:55 p.m.

    Agree with Kimberly. Symptoms plus labs. If you feel hyper, and your labs “say” you aren't, that...

  • Yikes! The OD is scheduled

    Aug. 26, 2014, 5:52 p.m.

    My experience is that, when you notice there have not been further changes in your eyes, subjectively or by...

  • Graves Hereditary?

    Aug. 26, 2014, 2:16 p.m.

    @tkiv - So glad that you found the info here helpful! @wandaaaron1 - Welcome to the group!

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