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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

  • After Thyroidectomy

    April 20, 2019, 5:17 p.m.

    I had a total thyroidectomy 6 months after Graves diagnosis (5 years ago). The eye disease began after two...

  • After Thyroidectomy

    April 19, 2019, 9:34 a.m.

    Hello and welcome - you will hopefully get some responses here from those who have had a thyroidectomy, but...

  • After Thyroidectomy

    April 17, 2019, 3:33 p.m.

    Hello, I had the right side of my thyroid removed at the beginning of the month and my T3/T4 levels are still...

  • Graves antibodies, TED and levothyroxine

    April 10, 2019, 10:50 a.m.

    Hi. I have no idea how to reduce my high TSI antibodies and neither does my doctor. He said it’s simply proof...

  • Graves' Has Destroyed My Life

    April 2, 2019, 9:05 a.m.

    Liz1967 5 years post thyroidectomy, and two years post last of six eye surgeries on both eyes. Except for...

  • Graves' Has Destroyed My Life

    April 2, 2019, 8 a.m.

    5 years post thyroidectomy, and two years post last of six eye surgeries on both eyes. Except for some...

  • Graves' Has Destroyed My Life

    April 2, 2019, 4:23 a.m.

    Kimberly Hello - Sorry to hear you are going through this. We're fellow patients here, so all I can suggest...

  • Graves' Has Destroyed My Life

    April 2, 2019, 4:18 a.m.

    SueAndHerZoo I'm sure you'll get other responses but since I popped in here just because I haven't in so...

  • Graves' Has Destroyed My Life

    April 1, 2019, 11:15 a.m.

    Hello - Sorry to hear you are going through this. We're fellow patients here, so all I can suggest to you is...

  • Going off methimazole expectations

    April 1, 2019, 11:10 a.m.

    Hello - We don't have a group specifically for friends/family members, but if you would like to reach out to...

  • Graves disease relationship & depression

    April 1, 2019, 11:09 a.m.

    Hello and welcome - I'm sorry to hear that you are going through this, but glad that you found us. The good...

  • Graves' Has Destroyed My Life

    April 1, 2019, 8:58 a.m.

    I'm sure you'll get other responses but since I popped in here just because I haven't in so long, I thought...

  • Graves' Has Destroyed My Life

    April 1, 2019, 6:38 a.m.

    Is my scenario normal? I'd appreciate any comments or help or advice about where to turn. It has really...

  • Going off methimazole expectations

    March 30, 2019, 11:02 p.m.

    Hi, are there any support groups for spouses and family of patients of graves patients.

  • Graves disease relationship & depression

    March 29, 2019, 5:48 p.m.

    I am 69 years old & I was diagnosed by my Endocrinologist with Graves Disease on the 19th March this...

Questions? Problems? Please contact us at [email protected] or 877-643-3123.

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© 2019 Graves' Disease & Thyroid Foundation