Graves' Disease

  • Basics

    Graves' disease is a condition in which the thyroid gland makes too much thyroid hormone (hyperthyroidism). It is usually easy to treat and the prognosis is good, although life-long observation by a physician will be required Figure 01. Graves' disease, named after the Irish doctor who first described the illness, is the most common type of hyperthyroidism. It is also referred to as “diffuse toxic goiter”.

    The thyroid is the butterfly-shaped organ situated at the base of the throat. It secretes two hormones (thyroxine and triiodothyronine, also called T4 and T3) that regulate the speed at which the body converts food and oxygen into energy (metabolism). In Graves' disease, the gland goes into overdrive and makes too much hormone, increasing the body's metabolic rate by as much as 60% to 80%. The consequences of a racing metabolism range from weight loss and lighter periods (in women) to serious health concerns such as heartbeat irregularities and osteoporosis.

    Click to enlarge: Glands of the endocrine system

    Figure 01. Glands of the endocrine system

    The thyroid is the butterfly-shaped organ situated at the base of the throat. In Graves' disease, the thyroid gland goes into overdrive and makes too much hormone, increasing the body's metabolic rate by as much as 60% to 80%.

  • Causes

    Graves' disease results when the body's immune system attacks the thyroid gland. The immune system normally guards the body against infections and cancer by making special proteins called antibodies. In Graves' disease, the blood cells that perform this task (lymphocytes) produce antibodies against proteins on the surface of thyroid cells. This stimulates the thyroid gland to secrete too much thyroid hormone, and the gland becomes enlarged.

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