What is Graves' Disease? Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment

The overproduction of thyroid hormones is a symptom of Graves' disease. While the condition is easily treatable, the consequences of not doing so are severe.

It is the immune system that is at fault for Graves' disease. This means the immune system attacks healthy cells because it thinks they are harmful invaders. Hyperthyroidism, caused by Graves' disease, is characterized by an overactive thyroid.

The thyroid gland in the neck secretes hormones that control metabolism. The immune system becomes activated in Graves' disease, leading to an overabundance of thyroid hormone.

Hyperthyroidism has multiple causes, but Graves' disease is the most common in the United States, affecting roughly 1 in 200 people. Women and those in their 30s to 50s are at higher risk for developing the disease.

Around 150 years ago, an Irish physician named Sir Robert Graves first described the condition known as Graves' disease.


Excessive production of thyroid hormones can trigger a spectrum of adverse health outcomes.

Such symptoms may include −

  • Unexplained weight loss

  • Intolerance to heat

  • Nervousness

  • Hand tremors

  • Sweating

  • Difficulty sleeping

  • Irritability

  • Tiredness and weakness

  • Frequent bowel movements or diarrhea

  • An irregular or rapid heartbeat

  • Thyroid enlargement (also known as a goiter).

Graves' dermopathy, characterized by thick, flushed skin on the shins, rarely occurs in patients with Graves' disease.


Although the exact reasons are unknown, the condition might be brought on by a mix of genes and outside factors, like viral infections. If Graves' illness runs in a person's family, they are more likely to get it themselves.

Graves' disease may also increase the likelihood of having another autoimmune disorder. These conditions include, among others −

  • Pernicious anemia

  • Rheumatoid arthritis

  • Lupus

  • Celiac disease

  • Addison's disease

  • Type 1 diabetes

  • Vitiligo

Effects of Graves' Disease on the Body

In those with Graves' disease, the butterfly-shaped thyroid gland located just above the collarbone becomes overactive and causes a variety of symptoms. It is necessary for the functioning of the endocrine system.

Metabolic regulation by thyroid hormones is circulatory in nature. Thyroid hormones are responsible for maintaining a healthy nervous system, skeleton, heart, muscles, and digestive tract.

Thyroid releasing hormone (TSH) is produced in the pituitary gland. Thyroid hormone is produced by the thyroid gland in response to physiological demands.

Patients with Graves' disease secrete immunoglobulin that stimulates the thyroid (TSI). TSI, like TSH, is an antibody that stimulates excessive thyroid hormone production. This might have an effect on how efficiently the body uses energy.


Fortunately, Graves' illness can be treated with several different approaches. Treatment focuses on reducing the symptoms caused by the overproduction of thyroid hormones.

Anti-thyroid Medication

The amount of hormones produced by the thyroid is lowered by these medications. In the treatment of hyperthyroidism, this is one of the more straightforward approaches..

Methimazole is one of the most often used anti-thyroid drugs (Northyx, Tapazole).

Although these medications are not a cure, they may have long-lasting effects. However, it can take several weeks or even months for thyroid levels to drop. The effectiveness of the treatment may take longer than 12 to 18 months.

As a result, a doctor might suggest a different strategy, including surgery or radioiodine therapy.

Radioiodine Therapy

In the United States, radioiodine therapy has become the standard of care for Graves' illness.

This requires oral administration of radioactive iodine in the form of a liquid or a pill. It specifically attacks the thyroid in order to eliminate the gland's hormone-making cells.

This suggests that radioiodine treatment leads to hypothyroidism or underactive thyroid in the vast majority of individuals. This is a lot less complicated to treat and doesn't cause as many complications down the line as hyperthyroidism does.


It is also recommended that beta-blockers be used initially in the treatment of hyperthyroidism. Thyroid hormone is an essential hormone; however, these medications inhibit its normal functions in the circulatory system. If a person's thyroid levels are normal, they may stop using beta-blockers.

This may be a quick and transient solution to symptoms including racing heartbeat, jitteriness, and trembling. It typically begins to function within hours.


Surgery is a less common Graves' disease treatment, but doctors may advise it in cases of pregnancy, large goiters, or when other therapies have failed.

The thyroid gland may be entirely or partially removed during a thyroidectomy. Depending on the severity of the ailment, a surgeon may remove one or both gland lobes and any nearby lymph nodes.

The thyroid can resume its functions if only a portion is surgically removed.

The body cannot create enough thyroid hormone, a condition known as hypothyroidism, if a surgeon removes the entire thyroid. A doctor will prescribe thyroid hormone pills that mimic the hormone's effects to treat this.

The most significant benefit of surgery is that it might be the quickest, most reliable, and most long-lasting solution to the problem.

A person may experience a hoarse or weak voice after surgery and experience neck pain. Due to the breathing tube used during the treatment, they could be transient.

Depending on how much of the thyroid is removed, the extent of the scar left by the procedure may vary.

Graves Eye Disease

The eyes may be affected by Graves' illness. The doctor may diagnose the problem as Graves' ophthalmology in this situation. The symptoms often appear six months after a Graves disease diagnosis.

These signs may manifest as −

  • Redness

  • Inflammation of the white parts of the eye

  • Swollen or retracted eyelids

  • An irritated feeling in the eye

  • Sensitivity to light

  • Dryness or wateriness

  • Bulging of the eyes

  • Sensitivity

Graves' ophthalmology is a condition that, if left untreated, can cause double vision and, in rare instances, vision loss due to increasing pressure on the optic nerves.


First, a doctor evaluates the symptoms and searches for Graves' disease indicators, like an enlarged thyroid. The medical history of a person's family is also examined for thyroid problems.

They may then order −

  • A test of blood for tetanus toxoid immunity

  • A blood test that detects how much radioactive iodine the thyroid gland absorbs

  • A scan of the thyroid that reveals how much iodine is present in the gland

High iodine levels could be a sign of Graves' illness.

Updated on: 14-Apr-2023


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