Graves' Disease

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Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disease that causes a condition called hyperthyroidism. With this condition, your thyroid gland creates too much thyroid hormone in the body. Graves’ disease is one of the most common forms of hyperthyroidism.

In Graves’ disease, your immune system creates antibodies known as thyroid-stimulating immunoglobulins. These antibodies then attach to healthy thyroid cells. They can cause your thyroid to create too much thyroid hormone.

Thyroid hormones affect many aspects of body processes, including nervous system function, brain development, body temperature, and other important things.


Graves’ disease and hyperthyroidism share many of the same symptoms.

These symptoms can include:

rapid heart rate (tachycardia)

hand tremors

heat sensitivity or intolerance

weight loss

sleep problems, including difficulty sleeping and fatigue

nervousness and irritability

muscle weakness

goiter (swelling in your thyroid gland)

frequent formed bowel movements

irregular periods

difficulty becoming pregnant

Graves’ dermopathy

Some people with Graves’ disease will experience Graves’ dermopathy.

With this condition, you’ll notice reddened, thickened skin around your shins or on the tops of your feet. While Graves’ dermopathy is often mild, it can potentially cause some pain and discomfort.

Graves’ opthalmopathy

Graves’ disease can also cause Graves’ ophthalmopathy (GO).

This condition develops when your immune system begins to attack eye tissue and muscle, leaving your eye sockets swollen and inflamed. This inflammation can cause your eyelids to retract, which makes your eyes seem enlarged and bulging.

You might also notice:

blurred or double vision

irritated or dry eyes

sensitivity to light

pain or a sense of pressure in your eyes

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK)Trusted Source

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National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

 Governmental authority

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 estimates that about 30 percent of people who develop Graves’ disease will get a mild case of GO. Up to 5 percent will have more severe symptoms.


Your immune system usually produces proteins known as antibodies in order to fight against foreign invaders like viruses and bacteria.

If you have an autoimmune disease like Graves’ disease, though, your immune system begins to fight against healthy tissues and cells in your body.

With Graves’ disease, instead of producing antibodies to target a specific invader, your immune system mistakenly produces thyroid-stimulating immunoglobulins. These antibodies then target your own healthy thyroid cells.

Scientists know that people can inherit the ability to make antibodies against their own healthy cells. But they have yet to find a clear cause of Graves’ disease or determine who will develop it.

Experts believe it’s possible that your genes and a virus or other external trigger both play a part in its development.

Risk factors

Family history. Because a family history of Graves' disease is a known risk factor, there is likely a gene or genes that can make a person more susceptible to the disorder.

Sex. Women are much more likely to develop Graves' disease than are men.

Age. Graves' disease usually develops in people before age 40.

Other autoimmune disorders. People with other disorders of the immune system, such as type 1 diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis, have an increased risk.

Emotional or physical stress. Stressful life events or illness may act as a trigger for the onset of Graves' disease among people who have genes that increase their risk.

Pregnancy. Pregnancy or recent childbirth may increase the risk of the disorder, particularly among women who have genes that increase their risk.

Smoking. Cigarette smoking, which can affect the immune system, increases the risk of Graves' disease. Smokers who have Graves' disease are also at increased risk of developing Graves' ophthalmopathy.

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Complications of Graves' disease can include:

Pregnancy issues. Possible complications of Graves' disease during pregnancy include miscarriage, preterm birth, fetal thyroid dysfunction, poor fetal growth, maternal heart failure and preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is a maternal condition that results in high blood pressure and other serious signs and symptoms.

Heart disorders. If left untreated, Graves' disease can lead to heart rhythm disorders, changes in the structure and function of the heart muscles, and the inability of the heart to pump enough blood to the body (heart failure).

Thyroid storm. A rare but life-threatening complication of Graves' disease is thyroid storm, also known as accelerated hyperthyroidism or thyrotoxic crisis. It's more likely when severe hyperthyroidism is untreated or treated inadequately.

The sudden and drastic increase in thyroid hormones can produce many effects, including fever, sweating, vomiting, diarrhea, delirium, severe weakness, seizures, irregular heartbeat, yellow skin and eyes (jaundice), severe low blood pressure, and coma. Thyroid storm requires immediate emergency care.

Brittle bones. Untreated hyperthyroidism also can lead to weak, brittle bones (osteoporosis). The strength of your bones depends, in part, on the amount of calcium and other minerals they contain. Too much thyroid hormone interferes with your body's ability to incorporate calcium into your bones.


Avoid smoking. Smoking increases the risk of Graves' disease and Graves' ophthalmopathy. Reduce stress in your life. Meditate, exercise regularly, take up activities that you enjoy and that calm you.