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MAIN Arrow to HealthHealth Arrow to DiseaseDiseases Arrow to Graves' Disease Thyroid Diseases Arrow to Graves' DiseaseGraves' Disease


Graves' disease is an illness caused by the body's immune system when it mistakenly attacks the thyroid gland.

The thyroid is a little gland with a big job. It is located in the front of the neck just below the voice box. Thyroid disorders can cause restlessness, fatigue, weight gain, weight loss and an array of other symptoms.

Some disorders cause the thyroid to make less hormones while others increase the thyroid's activity. Graves' disease makes the thyroid overactive, and it is the leading cause of hyperthyroidism.

Graves' disease is relatively uncommon — less than 1 percent of the population are affected. It occurs eight times more often in women than in men. Middle-aged women are the usual victims of this disease, but it can also occur in children, adolescents and the elderly.

Graves' disease symptoms

Like most autoimmune disorders Graves' disease is not contagious. There seems to be a genetic component involved, although no specific gene has been identified. Stress seems to be identified with onset, and it is often diagnosed following a severe viral infection or pregnancy.

Symptoms of Graves' disease may include:

  • Changes in hair thickness or texture

  • Enlarged thyroid gland - goiter

  • Erratic behavior, mood swings, nervousness, irritability and anxiety

  • Eye problems such as redness and swelling and blurred or double vision

  • Fatigue often with muscle weakness and tremors

  • Heat intolerance and increased sweating

  • Increased appetite

  • Increased frequency of stools and diarrhea

  • Menstrual cycle irregularities

  • Reduced sex drive

  • Restless sleep or insomnia and general restlessness

  • Short attention span - easily distracted

  • Tachycardia or heart palpitations - rapid or irregular heart beat

  • Unexplained weight loss

If you notice any of these symptoms, be sure to discuss this with your health care provider.

Untreated or improperly treated Graves' disease may cause weakened heart muscle that can lead to heart failure. Osteoporosis and eye disorders may also occur. Severe emotional disorders can also result over a longer period if the disease is not properly treated. If you become pregnant, hyperthyroidism may cause a miscarriage or birth defects.

Diagnosing Graves' disease

Your doctor has many tests to determine if you have Graves' disease. A physical exam may show an increased heart rate or thyroid enlargement (goiter). There are blood tests and other laboratory tests that can assist with the diagnosis

  • Serum TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) is decreased

  • Serum T3, free T4 are higher than normal (thyroid hormones)

  • Radioactive iodine uptake is usually high

  • TSI

  • Orbit CT scan or ultrasound

While there is no known cure for Graves' disease, there are treatments available to help reduce the symptoms and reduce the amount of thyroid hormone that is produced to correct the problem.

Treating Graves' disease

Beta-blockers such as propranolol are often used to treat symptoms of rapid heart rate, sweating, and anxiety until the hyperthyroidism is controlled.

The least invasive and also least effective way to reduce the amount of hormone the thyroid produces involves taking anti-thyroid drugs which inhibit production or conversion of the active thyroid hormone. Patients may opt for more effective treatment with radioactive iodine (I-131) which destroys part or all of the thyroid gland. This reduces the glands ability to produce thyroid hormone. A third alternative is surgery. In a subtotal thyroidectomy the surgeon removes most of the thyroid gland which makes it unable to overproduce thyroid hormones.

These treatments require follow-up with synthetic thyroid hormone to replace the hormones that your body cannot produce. The levels of hormone need to be carefully monitored and regulated. The amount of hormone that your body needs may change due to stress, other hormonal changes such as menopause or with substantial weight gain or loss.

Elsewhere on the Web, find out more about the condition at sites offering comprehensive expert information and treatment options along with helpful support from patient forums and discussion boards ...

More about Graves' disease around the Web:

Graves' Disease & Thyroid Foundation of America
- Patient centered USA focused site offers information and resources including a list of support groups by state. Includes causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and related links to more information for patients and health care professionals.

Graves' disease fact sheet - This US government sponsored has clear, concise information on Graves' disease in an easy to use question and answer format.

Medline Plus Medical Encyclopedia - Graves' Disease - Extensive entry from US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health with information on causes, symptoms and treatment, surgery, risks & complications, with more on medications in development, pictures & illustrations, references and related links.


This information is intended as reference and not as medical advice.
All treatment decisions should be made by medical professionals.


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