What is Graves’ disease?

Graves’ disease is a type of autoimmune disease that damages the thyroid gland. This butterfly-shaped gland in the neck produces hormones that regulate how your body uses energy (metabolism).

Graves’ disease is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid gland). People with Graves’ disease make too much thyroid hormone, which can damage the heart and other organs. The condition gets its name from Robert Graves, an Irish doctor who first described the condition in the 1800s.

Where is your thyroid?

This thumb-sized gland sits at the base of your neck. It’s below your Adam’s apple and in front of your windpipe. A bridge made of tissue connects the right and front lobes, or sides, of the gland, giving the thyroid a butterfly shape.

How common is Graves’ disease?

Graves’ disease affects one out of every 200 Americans, making it the top cause of hyperthyroidism.

Who might get Graves’ disease?

Graves’ disease affects more women than men. It typically occurs in people between the ages of 30 and 50. The condition tends to run in families.

Your risk of developing Graves’ disease increases if you have:

What causes Graves’ disease?

Experts don’t know what causes autoimmune diseases like Graves’ disease. Something triggers the immune system to overproduce an antibody called thyroid-stimulating immunoglobulin (TSI). The trigger may be a combination of genes and exposure to a virus. TSI attaches to healthy thyroid cells, causing the gland to overproduce thyroid hormones.

What are the symptoms of Graves’ disease?

Hyperthyroidism speeds up certain body functions. Symptoms of Graves’ disease include:

  • Difficulty sleeping.
  • Enlarged thyroid (goiter).
  • Eye inflammation that causes eyeballs to protrude from sockets.
  • Fast, irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia).
  • Fatigue.
  • Hand tremors.
  • Heat intolerance.
  • Irritability.
  • Muscle weakness.
  • Unexplained weight loss.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/26/2020.


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