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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 disease- can't find right dosing for methimazole

    May 27, 2016, 3:15 p.m.

    My eye disease began very shortly after starting methimazole and progressed rapidly to optic neuropathy,...

  • Third relapse

    May 27, 2016, 3:04 p.m.

    I quickly got tired of the ups and downs on methimazole and I never felt right. With your thyroid gone, if...

  • Third relapse

    May 27, 2016, 1:31 p.m.

    Hi Saw the endocrinologist today He has been keen since last time for me to have TT or RAI and told me that...

  • Graves disease- can't find right dosing for methimazole

    May 27, 2016, 10:43 a.m.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I have some thoughts too. Why would adding thyroxine to your methimazole...

  • Graves disease- can't find right dosing for methimazole

    May 26, 2016, 2:36 p.m.

    Hi everyone, The doctor can't seem to find the right dosing for methimazole. I have been on it for two years....

  • can't decide- IV steroids or oral

    May 26, 2016, 12:04 p.m.

    To Shirley and Liz - While eyes are not (yet) a big issue with me, I just have to jump in here and tell you...

  • can't decide- IV steroids or oral

    May 26, 2016, 11:49 a.m.

    Shirley, you are making me work today! Everyones disease course is so different. To complicate matters,...

  • Third relapse

    May 26, 2016, 10:53 a.m.

    Hello, I have not been on antithyroid drugs so I cannot speak out from my own experience. I will say it does...

  • Third relapse

    May 26, 2016, 10:48 a.m.

    Now they are talking about radiation and steroids following TT for the best outcome of TED. Outcome of...

  • Third relapse

    May 26, 2016, 8:42 a.m.

    Liz, the Standard of Care used to be to leave a tiny piece of thyroid, to avoid having take a thyroid...

  • can't decide- IV steroids or oral

    May 26, 2016, 8:39 a.m.

    For TED, (thyroid eye disease,) the main reason to give steroids is usually because the orbital swelling of...

  • can't decide- IV steroids or oral

    May 25, 2016, 2:33 p.m.

    I had to go back and look at my records and I actually had 3 months, not six weeks, of weekly SoluMedrol...

  • can't decide- IV steroids or oral

    May 25, 2016, 1:22 p.m.

    Thank you all. The comments are helpful. Liz, do you recall your IV dosing?

  • Third relapse

    May 25, 2016, 1:03 p.m.

    My TT was very quick and easy. Not scary. My only worry is that there might be a tiny thyroid remnant left....

  • can't decide- IV steroids or oral

    May 25, 2016, 12:55 p.m.

    The IV steroids helped with the irritation and kept retraction the same. Did not seem to do much for double...

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