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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

  • Still fluctuating after all these years

    Aug. 16, 2018, 8:18 p.m.

    Hi Sue, thank you for tour reply. I really appreciate the advice.

  • Thyroidectomy

    Aug. 16, 2018, 6:02 p.m.

    Hi Liz. Thank you for your reply and sharing your story. I really appreciate the support. Methimazole has...

  • Thyroidectomy

    Aug. 16, 2018, 5:39 p.m.

    The thyroidectomy is easy compared to dealing with methimazole! I had my thyroidectomy six months after...

  • Thyroidectomy

    Aug. 16, 2018, 1:20 p.m.

    Hello - You can use the “search posts” feature when you are logged in to check out stories from...

  • Thyroidectomy

    Aug. 16, 2018, 11:45 a.m.

    I have just been cleared for a thyroidectomy. I have Graves disease which has not responded well to...

  • Rise and Fall of Body Temperature

    Aug. 13, 2018, 9:53 a.m.

    Normal body temperature is between 97 and 99. Daily variation is not abnormal.

  • Still fluctuating after all these years

    Aug. 13, 2018, 9:42 a.m.

    Hello Cl14. I agree with Kimberly, but also what I have found EXTREMELY helpful over the years is to keep a...

  • Rise and Fall of Body Temperature

    Aug. 13, 2018, 9:40 a.m.

    Hello and welcome - We are a fairly small organization and don't currently have a support group in Maryland....

  • Still fluctuating after all these years

    Aug. 13, 2018, 9:32 a.m.

    Hello and welcome - methimazole clears the body fairly quickly, so you should start to see those hypO...

  • Still fluctuating after all these years

    Aug. 11, 2018, 3:55 p.m.

    Hello, I was recently diagnosed with Graves’ disease in May 2018. I was severely hyperthyroid at the time and...

  • Rise and Fall of Body Temperature

    Aug. 11, 2018, 3 p.m.

    I have been living with thyroid disease for 34 years now diagnosed at the age of 24. After a 15 year period...

  • Graves symptoms after RAI and failed thyroid medicine

    Aug. 10, 2018, 5:55 p.m.

    Hello - There are unfortunately no alternatives to thyroid hormone replacement. Tirosint is a brand name...

  • Graves symptoms after RAI and failed thyroid medicine

    Aug. 3, 2018, 3:42 a.m.

    What are your numbers? I go by TSH alone, keeping it between 1 and 2. Since you cannot be hypo and hyper at...

  • Multiple questions

    Aug. 1, 2018, 7:15 p.m.

    Do you think the pain in your legs could be in the muscle? Years ago I was having calf pain, usually in the...

  • Graves symptoms after RAI and failed thyroid medicine

    Aug. 1, 2018, 6:33 p.m.

    In 2010 I was diagnosed with Graves. I tried medicine but it trashed my liver and made me gain over 30lbs. A...

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