The thyroid is a small gland in our neck that produces hormones which regulate many functions in your body. Having too much or too little thyroid hormone can cause many different symptoms — a condition known as hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism, respectively. Graves’ disease is one of the possible causes of hyperthyroidism, and it’s probably more common than you realize.
Keep reading to learn more about Graves’ disease.
What is Graves’ disease?
Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disorder that affects the thyroid gland, leading to hyperthyroidism. According to the Cleveland Clinic, Graves’ is actually the most common cause of hyperthyroidism, and it can often result in an enlarged thyroid gland. It has been estimated that 1 out of every 100 Americans suffer from Graves’ disease.
Difference between Graves’ disease and hyperthyroidism
As we mentioned above, the autoimmune disorder Graves’ disease is a cause of hyperthyroidism — however, not all cases of hyperthyroidism are caused by Graves’ illness.
Toxic diffuse goiter is another name for Graves’ disease. According to MedlinePlus, other causes of hyperthyroidism can include:
- Thyroid nodules
- Taking too much iodine
- Taking too much thyroid medication
Graves’ disease risk factors
According to the NIH National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, risk factors for Graves’ disease include:
- Female gender
- People older than 30
- Family history of Graves’ disease or Hashimoto’s disease
- Other autoimmune or hormonal disorders
- Use of nicotine products
- Celiac disease
- Pernicious anemia
Symptoms of Graves’ disease
Since women are more likely to develop this disease, Graves’ disease symptoms in females are more common, and they can vary significantly from one patient to the next. However, Graves’ disease symptoms in males can be similar to symptoms in females, and they shouldn’t be overlooked.
According to the Mayo Clinic, Graves’ disease symptoms can include:
- Enlarged thyroid (goiter)
- Increased sweating
- Increased heat sensitivity
- Weight loss
- Increased appetite
- Bulging eyes
- Changes in menstrual cycles
- Frequent bowel movements or diarrhea
- Lower libido
- Erectile dysfunction
- Rapid heartbeat (tachycardia)
- Irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)
- Thick, red skin on the tops of the feet and/or shins (Graves’ dermopathy)
- Sleep disorders
- Hand tremors
- Muscular weakness
It’s important to keep in mind that every patient with Graves’ disease is different, and you don’t have to exhibit all these symptoms to seek medical attention and get a diagnosis.
How do you get Graves’ disease?
The exact cause of Graves’ disease is still unknown; however, the disease is thought to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. We do know that certain situations can trigger Graves’ disease symptoms in people who are genetically predisposed. These triggers can include:
- Emotional or physical stress
- Recent childbirth
How does Graves’ disease affect the body?
According to the American Thyroid Association, Graves’ disease causes a generalized overactivity of the thyroid gland. In Graves’ disease, the immune system produces antibodies called thyrotropin receptor antibodies (TRAb) or thyroid stimulating immunoglobulins (TSI). These antibodies are very similar to thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), which tricks the thyroid into producing thyroid hormones in larger than normal quantities.
Long term effects of Graves’ disease
If left untreated, Graves’ can affect practically any system and organ in your body and cause dangerous consequences, such as:
- Blood clots
- Heart failure
- Skin lesions
- Bone density loss
- Fertility problems
- Vision problems
- Eye infections
- Eye discomfort
- Vision loss
- Risk of miscarriage
- Birth defects
Stages of Graves’ disease
Graves’ disease itself doesn’t have stages, but Graves’ ophthalmopathy can be divided into stages. This ophthalmopathy causes bulging eyes from Graves’ disease, eye inflammation, and fibrosis. Graves’ ophthalmopathy can be classified in different according to its severity, including:
- Class 0: No signs
- Class 1: Only signs (upper lid retraction)
- Class 2: Soft tissue involvement (conjunctiva and eyelids)
- Class 3: Proptosis (eye bulging)
- Class 4: Extraocular muscle involvement (usually with double vision)
- Class 5: Corneal damage
- Class 6: Vision loss
FAQ: Graves’ disease
Can Graves’ disease cause headaches?
Yes. Headaches or migraines are a common symptom of Graves’ disease.
Can Graves’ disease cause hypothyroidism?
By definition, Graves’ disease causes hyperthyroidism rather than hypothyroidism. But if you need to have your thyroid gland removed as part of your treatment, the surgery will likely result in hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism can be managed by taking supplemental thyroid hormones.
Can stress cause Graves’ disease?
As we mentioned above, the exact cause of Graves’ disease isn’t fully understood. However, emotional and/or physical stress can trigger symptoms of the disease in some people.
Can you get Graves’ disease without a thyroid?
Thyroid removal is one of the most effective treatments for severe or Graves’ disease, and it typically eliminates the disease altogether. In very rare cases, there can be an overactive thyroid remnant or ectopic thyroid tissue that can continue to cause symptoms after your thyroid is removed.
Does Graves’ disease cause hair loss?
Yes, Graves’ disease can cause hair loss and shedding in some cases.
Thyroid disorders are a relatively common health problem, but there are other diseases that can affect your health — including STDs. You can learn more about different STDs and at-home STD testing at STDWatch.com now.
Graves’ Disease - my.clevelandclinic.org
Hyperthyroidism - medlineplus.gov
Graves’ Disease - niddk.nih.gov
Graves’ disease - mayoclinic.org
Graves’ Disease - thyroid.org