Graves' disease is an autoimmune disease that affects the thyroid. The thyroid is a small gland in the front of the neck. It makes hormones called T3 and T4 that regulate hb how the body uses energy. Thyroid hormone levels are controlled by the pituitary, which is a pea-sized gland in the brain. It makes thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), which triggers the thyroid to make thyroid hormone.
With Graves' disease, the immune system makes antibodies that act like TSH, causing the thyroid to make more thyroid hormone than your body needs. This is called an overactive thyroid or hyperthyroidism. An overactive thyroid causes every function of the body to speed up, such as heart rate and the rate your body turns food into energy. Graves' disease is one cause of overactive thyroid. It is closely related to Hashimoto's disease, another autoimmune disease affecting the thyroid.
Who gets Graves' disease?
Both men and women can get Graves' disease. But it affects women 10 times more often than men. Graves' disease occurs in people of all ages, but most often starts in the 20s and 30s. People who get Graves' disease often have family members who have thyroid or other autoimmune diseases. People who get Graves' disease sometimes have other autoimmune diseases, such as:
Vitiligo (vit-ihl-EYE-goh) — a disease that destroys the cells that give your skin its colorRheumatoid arthritis — a disease that affects the lining of the joints throughout the bodyAddison's disease — a disease that affects the adrenal glands, which make hormones that help your body respond to stress and regulate your blood pressure and water and salt balanceType 1 diabetes — a disease that causes blood sugar levels to be too highPernicious (pur-NISH-uhss) anemia — a disease that keeps your body from absorbing vitamin B12 and making enough healthy red blood cellsLupus — a disease that can damage many parts of the body, such as the joints, skin, blood vessels, and other organs
What causes Graves' disease?
Many factors are thought to play a role in getting Graves' disease. These might include:
Genes. Some people are prone to Graves' disease because of theirgenes. Researchers are working to find the gene or genes involved.
Gender. Sex hormones might play a role, and might explain why Graves' disease affects more women than men.
Stress. Severe emotional stress or trauma might trigger the onset of Graves' disease in people who are prone to getting it.
Pregnancy. Pregnancy affects the thyroid. As many as 30 percent of young women who get Graves' disease have been pregnant in the 12 months prior to the onset of symptoms. This suggests that pregnancy might trigger Graves' disease in some women.
Infection. Infection might play a role in the onset of Graves' disease, but no studies have shown infection to directly cause Graves' disease.