Graves’ Disease Overview

What Is Graves’ Disease?

Written by Daniel J. Toft MD, PhD
Reviewed by Robert M. Sargis MD, PhD
Graves’ disease is named for the doctor who first described it in Ireland—Robert J. Graves. He noticed it in a patient in 1835. The disease is also referred to as Basedow’s disease—named after a German, Karl Adolph van Basedow, who described the disease in 1840. He didn’t know that Graves had described the same disease just a few years earlier. The term Basedow’s disease is more commonly used in continental Europe; in the United States, it’s called Graves’ disease.
Graves’ disease is a type of autoimmune problem that causes the thyroid gland to produce too much thyroid hormone, which is called hyperthyroidism. Graves’ disease is often the underlying cause of hyperthyroidism.
Autoimmune problems—of which there are many different types—develop when your immune system causes disease by attacking healthy tissues. Researchers do not completely understand what causes autoimmunity, although there seems to be a genetic connection, as cases of Graves’ disease tend to run in families. For unknown reasons, like many autoimmune diseases, Graves’ is also more likely to affect women than men.
In Graves’ disease, your immune system creates antibodies that cause the thyroid to grow and make more thyroid hormone than your body needs. These antibodies are called thyroid-stimulating immunoglobulins (TSIs). The TSIs bind to thyroid cell receptors, which are normally “docking stations” for thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH—the hormone responsible for telling the thyroid to produce hormones). The TSIs then trick the thyroid into growing and producing too much thyroid hormone, leading to hyperthyroidism.
The early symptoms of Graves’ disease may be confused with other conditions and make diagnosis a challenge. Some of the more common symptoms include:
Physical Signs and Symptoms
If Graves’ disease goes untreated, physical signs and symptoms may develop.



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Graves’ Disease Symptoms