Graves’ disease is the most common cause of an overactive thyroid. It is important that Graves’ disease is diagnosed and treated early because the condition can affect heart function, bone structure and the eyes.
What is Graves’ disease?
Graves' disease is caused by an abnormality of the immune system. It is an autoimmune disease – the body’s immune system produces antibodies that attack the thyroid tissue, leading to the thyroid gland in the neck producing too much thyroid hormone (hyperthyroidism).
What causes Graves’ disease?
It is not known what causes autoimmune illnesses like Graves’ disease. Autoimmune illnesses are more common in females. Graves’ disease is more common in women aged 20 to 40 years and in people who have a family history of the condition.
What are the symptoms of Graves’ disease?
The symptoms of Graves’ disease include:
- racing heart
- weight loss
- fatigue and sleep loss
About 1 in 3 people who have had Graves' disease can develop bulging eyes, or exophthalmos. This is because the antibodies that attack the thyroid can also attack the muscles and tissues around the eyes. This is called thyroid eye disease (TED).
It is also possible for people with Grave's disease to get a goitre, which is a swollen thyroid gland visible to others.
Pregnant women with poorly controlled Graves’ disease have an increased risk of pregnancy problems such as miscarriage and premature birth.
How is Graves’ disease diagnosed?
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. If they suspect Grave’s disease, they will order a blood test to measure the level of thyroid hormones and thyroid stimulating hormone in your blood. If the test shows you have an overactive thyroid, your doctor will refer you to an endocrinologist who may order more tests, such as scans.
How is Graves’ disease treated?
Treatments involve medications to reduce the activity of the thyroid gland, and sometimes surgery is needed to remove part or all of the thyroid gland.
Medications may be used to control symptoms such as rapid heart rate.
For more information and support:
The Endocrine Society of Australia has more information about the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of hyperthyroidism.
Follow the links below to find trusted information about Graves' disease.
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Last reviewed: March 2020