Graves disease (also known as 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.
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.
Your doctor will do a physical exam and may use different types of tests to diagnose Graves disease.
Your doctor will:
Blood tests. When thyroid hormone levels are high, the pituitary doesn't need to make as much TSH. Very low levels of TSH and high levels of T4 in your blood suggest hyperthyroidism.
Radioactive iodine uptake test. The thyroid absorbs iodine from your blood and uses it to make thyroid hormone. When the thyroid produces too much thyroid hormone, it absorbs more iodine. This test involves swallowing a capsule containing a small, harmless amount of radioactive iodine. The amount of iodine taken up by your thyroid is then measured. A high uptake of radioactive iodine suggests Graves disease.
The Hormone Health Network is the public education affiliate of the Endocrine Society dedicated to helping both patients and doctors find information on the prevention, treatment and cure of hormone-related conditions.
All Network materials, including the content on this site, are reviewed by experts in the field of endocrinology to ensure the most balanced, accurate, and relevant information available. The information on this site and Network publications do not replace the advice of a trained healthcare provider.
Paid advertisements appear on the Hormone Health Network. Advertising participation does not influence editorial decisions or content.