Fact Sheet

Graves’ Disease

  • Editors
  • Elliot Levy, MD
    Leonard Wartofsky, MD

What is the thyroid gland?

The thyroid gland, located at the front of your neck,  produces two thyroid hormones: thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3) T4 and T3 regulate how the body uses energy. This is sometimes called your metabolism.

How well the thyroid works is controlled by another gland called the pituitary, which is located in your brain. The pituitary produces thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which tells the thyroid to produce T4 and T3.


What is Graves’ disease?

Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disease. This means your immune system, which normally protects your body and helps fight disease, produces antibodies that attack the thyroid gland.  These antibodies act like TSH and cause the gland to make too much thyroid hormone. This condition is called hyperthyroidism.  Although it can occur at any age in men or women, Graves’ disease is more common in women between age 20 and 50, who often have a family history of thyroid disease.  

What are the complications of Graves’ disease?

If left untreated, hyperthyroidism can lead to heart failure or brittle bones (osteoporosis). Pregnant women with uncontrolled Graves’ disease are at greater risk of miscarriage, premature birth, and having a baby with low birth weight.

Graves’ disease can also cause swelling behind the eyes that sometimes makes them bulge outward. This condition is called Graves’ ophthalmopathy and is relatively rare.

How is Graves’ disease diagnosed?

Your doctor will do a physical exam and may use different types of tests to diagnose Graves’ disease:

How is Graves’ disease treated?

Graves’ is a treatable disease that can be well controlled. Several treatments are available.

Questions to ask your doctor