Graves’ disease is an immune system disorder that causes overproduction of thyroid hormones (hyperthyroidism). Hyperthyroidism may result from a number of disorders; however, Graves’ disease is one of the more common causes.

Thyroid symptoms affect a number of different body systems, therefore, the symptoms of Graves’ disease may vary or be wide ranging, which can significantly influence the overall health. Graves’ disease can affect anyone; however, it is more common in women before the age of 40.

Initial treatment for Graves’ disease focuses on limiting the overproduction of thyroid hormones and easing the severity of the symptoms.



Common symptoms of Graves’ disease include:


  • Anxiety or irritability
  • A fine tremor of the hands or fingers
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Enlargement of the thyroid gland (goiter)
  • High sensitivity and an increase in perspiration or warm, moist skin
  • Frequent bowel movements
  • Bulging eyes (Graves’ ophthalmopathy)
  • Change in menstrual cycle
  • Erectile dysfunction or reduced libido
  • Thick, red skin usually on the shins or tops of the feet (Graves’ dermopathy)
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat (palpitations)


Graves’ ophthalmopathy

In Graves' ophthalmopathy, inflammation and other immune system reactions can affect muscles and other tissues around the eyes. The symptoms may include:


  • Bulging eyes (exophthalmos)
  • Pressure or pain in the eyes
  • Gritty sensation in the eyes
  • Reddened or inflamed eyes
  • Light sensitivity
  • Puffy or retracted eyelids
  • Double vision
  • Vision loss


Graves’ dermopathy

Graves’ dermopathy is a rare manifestation of the disease that causes reddening and thickening of the skin that most commonly appears on the shins or the tops of the feet.



Graves’ disease is caused by a malfunction in the body’s immune system, although the reason why the malfunction happens is unknown.

A normal immune system response is the production of antibodies against certain viruses, bacteria or other foreign substances. In Graves’ disease, the body produces an antibody that targets one part of the cells in the thyroid gland (a hormone-producing gland in the neck).

The antibody associated with Graves’ disease, thyrotropin receptor antibody (TRAb), affects the regulatory system of the pituitary hormone. This means that it overrides the normal regulation of the thyroid, leading to an overproduction of thyroid hormones (hyperthyroidism)


Cause of Graves’ ophtalmopathy

This type of Graves’ disease results from a buildup of certain carbohydrates in the skin. The same antibody that causes thyroid dysfunction is also associated with problems with the tissues that surround the eyes.


Risk factors

Anyone can develop Graves’ disease; however, the following factors may increase the risk of the disease:


  • Family history: gene or genes that cause susceptibility to the disease
  • Gender: women have a higher risk of developing Graves’ disease than men
  • Age: most cases of Graves’ disease are diagnosed in people younger than 40
  • Other autoimmune disorders: immune system disorders such as type 1 diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis have a higher risk of developing the disease
  • Emotional or physical stress: stressful events or an illness may trigger the onset of Graves’ disease
  • Pregnancy: pregnancy or recent childbirth increases the risk of the disorder, especially in women who are genetically susceptible
  • Smoking



Complications of Graves’ disease include:


  • Pregnancy problems: miscarriage, premature birth, fetal thyroid dysfunction, poor fetal growth, preeclampsia and maternal heart failure.
  • Heart disorders: untreated Graves’ disease can cause heart rhythm disorders, changes in the structure and function of the heart muscles and congestive heart failure.
  • Thyroid storm: untreated hyperthyroidism can lead to a number of serious complications such as fever, vomiting, diarrhea, profuse sweating, severe weakness, delirium, seizures, jaundice, markedly irregular heartbeat, severe low blood pressure and coma.
  • Brittle bones: untreated hyperthyroidism can also cause weak, brittle bones (osteoporosis).