Graves' Disease

Graves' disease is also known as Graves-Basedow disease. It is condition with a close relationship with disorders of the thyroid gland.


Graves' disease belongs among autoimmune diseases. This means that the immune system damages patient's own tissues, usually by production of aggressive autoantibodies. In this case, the target damaged tissue is the thyroid gland. The real cause of this abnormal immune response is unclear but we assume a combination of certain genetic predisposition with some influence of a viral infection. Women have a much higher risk of Graves' disease occurrence than men.


Damaged tissue of the thyroid gland is irritated and this leads of overproduction of thyroid hormones. Inflamed thyroid gland enlarges (goiter) and the person suffers from typical symptoms of overactive thyroid such as weight loss, hot flashes, intolerance of higher temperature, dry skin, brittle hair, brittle nails, nervousness, hand tremors, palpitations, etc. The autoantibodies often target even eyes and cause swelling of retroocular tissue (tissue behind the eyes). This leads to typical “bulging eyes” appearance. As the process goes chronic, the damaged thyroid gland gets depleted and the patient starts to suffer from signs of underactive thyroid gland.


In case of the above-mentioned symptoms, it is wise to find out any cases of thyroid gland disorders in the patient's family history and to examine the thyroid gland with palpation to confirm its enlargement. Blood tests help us to evaluate levels of thyroid gland hormones and presence of specific autoantibodies. Ultrasound can image the structure of the thyroid gland and to rule out the presence of thyroid gland tumor.


When the patient suffers from palpitations, beta-blockers are very effective drugs to slow the pulse. Thyreostatic drugs are used in acute phases to dampen the production of thyroid hormones; similar effect has an administration of radioiodine or surgical removal of the thyroid gland (followed with life-long regular usage of thyroid hormones). Eye form of disease is treated by ophthalmologists.


Jiri Stefanek, MD  Author of texts: Jiri Stefanek, MD
 Sources: basic text sources