What Causes Graves' Disease and What Are the Signs?

What Causes Graves' Disease?

An autoimmune disease occurs when the body's immune system becomes misdirected and attacks the very organs, cells, or tissues it is supposed to protect. In Graves' disease, the immune system makes an antibody called thyroid-stimulating immunoglobulin (TSI), which mimics TSH and causes the thyroid to make more hormone than the body needs.
 
Research scientists aren't exactly sure why this happens, although they do know that certain factors can increase a person's chances of developing Graves' disease. These risk factors include:
 
  • Being a woman. Women are up to seven times more likely to develop Graves' disease than men.
  • A family history of thyroid disease.
  • Eating large amounts of food containing iodine, such as kelp, or using iodine-containing medications, such as amiodarone (a heart medication).
  • Have been pregnant or delivered a baby within the past six months.
  • Smoking.
  • Stress.
     

Signs and Symptoms of Graves' Disease

There are many symptoms or combinations of symptoms that a person with Graves' disease may develop. These signs can develop slowly over time or suddenly. It is also possible for a person to have no symptoms.
 
Some possible symptoms of Graves' disease include:
 
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Fatigue
  • Increased sweating
  • Intolerance for heat
  • Weight loss without dieting
  • A goiter, which is an enlarged thyroid that may cause the neck to look swollen
  • Swelling of the tissues around the eyes
  • Bulging of the eyes
  • Lumpy, reddish thickening of the skin in front of the shins (pretibial myxedema).
     
(Click Graves' Disease Symptoms for a longer list of possible symptoms seen with this condition.)
 
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