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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

  • Antibodies still HIgh

    Feb. 4, 2018, 3:43 p.m.

    Well I saw the second surgeon who would do the reconstructive surgery and decompression. He suggested several...

  • marijuana use and thyroid eye disease

    Feb. 4, 2018, 3:22 p.m.

    thank you so much for your thoughtful response. i'm a caterer and after a big gig, my body hurts. smoking a...

  • Long term symptom questions

    Jan. 29, 2018, 9:48 a.m.

    Thank you Kim & Liz, The link was very informative and helpful. It also brought up more questions. In the...

  • Long term symptom questions

    Jan. 26, 2018, 2:36 p.m.

    Hello - Some patients do report lingering symptoms even after treatment, but agree with Liz1967 that the...

  • Long term symptom questions

    Jan. 26, 2018, 9:33 a.m.

    I would say no to both questions. Hyperthyroidism could cause fine tremors in your hands and anxiety, but you...

  • Long term symptom questions

    Jan. 25, 2018, 9:57 a.m.

    Long term symptom questions my history 1. Diagnosed with Graves 7 years ago with mild G.O. in one eye. 2. My...

  • side effects from uptake test

    Jan. 22, 2018, 10:11 a.m.

    Hello Bubbles 1, I hope you are a bit better now. I also had a very enlarged thyroid, and my endo did not...

  • side effects from uptake test

    Jan. 21, 2018, 8:13 p.m.

    I never had any problems after my uptake and scan back in 2011. I was on methimazole for four years and never...

  • marijuana use and thyroid eye disease

    Jan. 20, 2018, 5:33 p.m.

    I vaped MMJ when my eyes flared a few years ago. Arizona is a Medical Marijuana state. My medication was...

  • marijuana use and thyroid eye disease

    Jan. 19, 2018, 9 a.m.

    Hello and welcome - I've not seen any well-designed studies on the issue, so best to err on the side of...

  • marijuana use and thyroid eye disease

    Jan. 18, 2018, 12:58 p.m.

    it is always suggested people stop smoking tobacco if they have thyroid eye disease. but i have never seen...

  • side effects from uptake test

    Jan. 10, 2018, 10:21 a.m.

    Hello and welcome - I would urge you to contact your provider ASAP on the symptoms that you are experiencing....

  • side effects from uptake test

    Jan. 10, 2018, 9:21 a.m.

    HI, I have had graves disease, since Aug.29th, when I ending up at ER for high H.R. I have been taking Beta...

  • Antibodies still HIgh

    Jan. 10, 2018, 4:53 a.m.

    Generally they will not do strabismus surgery if you require a small amount of prism because of the risk of...

  • Antibodies still HIgh

    Jan. 9, 2018, 5:56 p.m.

    Thank you Liz for all your imput. It is reassuring. Dr. prescribed prism for me for driving as well . I have...

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