Learn more about Graves’ disease

Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disease that causes hyperthyroidism. With Graves’ disease, your body’s immune system starts to fight some of the cells in your thyroid the way that it would normally fight germs. These cells control how much thyroid hormone your body releases, so when they’re damaged by Graves’s disease, it can cause your thyroid to release too much.

Graves’ disease has many of the same symptoms as other causes of hyperthyroidism, including:

  • Weight loss
  • Thin or brittle hair
  • Anxiety, nervousness or irritability
  • Muscle weakness
  • Diarrhea or more frequent bowel movements
  • Heat sensitivity and increased sweating

Graves’ disease can also cause some unique symptoms. You may notice changes in your eyes and vision, like bulging eyes, light sensitivity, swelling or eye pain. This is called Graves’ ophthalmopathy.

You might also see thick, red skin on your feet or shins, which is called Graves’ dermopathy. If you have Graves’ disease and you smoke, you may have a higher risk of developing these additional symptoms.

How is Graves’ disease diagnosed?

If you think you may have Graves’ disease, talk to your doctor. He or she will ask you some questions about your symptoms and your overall health, then check your neck for any bumps or an enlarged thyroid.

You’ll also need a blood test to confirm the diagnosis, and your doctor may want to do an imaging test like an ultrasound to look at your thyroid.

Find the right balance with treatment

There are several treatments available for Graves’ disease. Most people start by taking regular doses of a medicine that slows down the thyroid. In some cases, your doctor may recommend a one-time treatment. One option is to take radioiodine, which shrinks the thyroid and relieves symptoms with a single dose. A second option is surgery to remove part of the thyroid.

Occasionally, these one-time treatments can slow down the thyroid too much and cause you to have hypothyroidism. If this happens, you’ll still need to take medicines to help your thyroid produce the right amount of hormones. The good news is that an underactive thyroid is much simpler to treat than an overactive one.

To schedule an appointment with a specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (1.866.225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.