Graves' disease is an autoimmune thyroid disorder. It is hyperthyroidism's most common cause, and is also frequently characterized by goiter and bulging of the eye (exophthalmos). In this condition, the disproportionately high activity of the thyroid leads to more than the normal amount of thyroid hormones.
Graves' disease has numerous possible symptoms. To see a list of common symptoms, visit the Graves' disease symptoms page.
Graves' disease appears the most frequently during the early time of the adolescent period. The condition occurs much more frequently in women than it does in men, occuring an estimated five to ten times as often in women as it does in men. Although the actual medical cause is unknown, there is a genetic factor that seems to be involved in some cases.
Diagnosis of Graves' disease is made by a doctor or medical professional. Clinical signs of this disorder include:
Exophthalmos (bulging of either one or both eyes)
Pretibial myxedema along with skin thickening
Tachycardia (rapid heart beat)
Pretibial myxedema and exophthalmos are actually diagnostic of Graves' disease. Certain tests may also be performed, including: blood tests (to check for elevated T3 and T4), x-ray, ultrasound, biopsy, goiter check, and others.
Treatment for Graves' disease may depend on the patient and the specific conditions involved. Common treatment options include:
Thyroidectomy (surgery in which the thyroid is taken out)
Additionally, treatment may be given for the symptoms that the person is experiencing. For instance, medication can be used to try to decrease the nausea that the person feels. Many people with this autoimmune condition will ultimately need thyroid hormones, as the gland may either be removed via surgery, or destroyed by radiation. Untreated Graves' disease may lead to complications, including higher risk of miscarriage, birth defects in pregnancy, and potential death in extreme cases.
About its name
The name of this condition comes from the Irish doctor Robert James Graves. Historically, the condition has also been known as exophthalmic goiter. Basedow's disease and Graves-Basedow disease are other common modern names for the condition, particularly in certain areas of Europe.