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Graves’ Disease

Graves’ disease is a problem where the immune system accidentally attacks the thyroid gland in your neck, causing it to get bigger (form a goiter) and become overactive.

The overactive thyroid gland makes too much thyroid hormone. When you have too much thyroid hormone you can get a number of symptoms called hyperthyroidism.

People with Graves’ disease can also get bulging eyes and skin problems, especially in the legs.

Graves’ disease: what you should know

  • Because Graves' disease is caused by a mistake in the immune system, it is called an autoimmune disease.
  • If you have Graves’ disease and you smoke, you are more likely to develop eye problems. It is important not to smoke if you have Graves' disease.
  • Symptoms of Graves' disease include the following:
    • Anxiety
    • Feeling jittery or shaky
    • Palpitations (feeling your heart beating)
    • Enlarged thyroid gland in the neck (goiter)
    • Sweating more than usual
    • Frequent bowel movements
    • Insomnia
    • Bulging eyes
    • Eye irritation and tearing
    • Thick skin on your legs or feet (uncommon)

How can I get help for Graves’ disease?

See your primary care doctor if you have Graves’ disease symptoms. Your doctor will perform a physical exam and order blood tests. If you have Graves’ disease, your doctor will refer you to an endocrinologist, a hormone specialist.

If you are having eye problems, your doctor may also order a CT scan of your eyes. Depending on what the results show, your doctor may refer you to an eye doctor.

Care for people with Graves’ disease at Rush

You will receive treatment to stop your overactive thyroid from producing too much thyroid hormone. Your endocrinologist will recommend one of these options:

  • Beta-blocker medication to decrease symptoms until your hyperthyroidism is under control
  • Antithyroid medication to reduce the amount of hormone your thyroid gland produces
  • Radioactive iodine to slow down your body's production of thyroid hormones, in some cases
  • Thyroid surgery to remove your thyroid gland, in rare cases

Why choose Rush for Graves’ disease care

  • The endocrinology team at Rush includes nationally recognized experts in the care of thyroid disease who are members of the American Thyroid Association.
  • Rush offers minimally invasive techniques for thyroid surgery. This type of surgery creates a smaller scar on your neck. You’ll also heal faster and have less pain.
  • If Graves’ disease affects your eyes or skin, you may need to see multiple doctors. Rush has many specialists located on the Rush campus. You can come to one place for all of your appointments.

Departments and programs that treat this condition