Autoimmune diseases

Graves’ disease

What is Graves’ disease?

Graves' disease is an autoimmune disease, which is often described as being a multi-system disorder. Graves' disease is also known as Graves-Basedow disease. It frequently results in hyperthyroidism. Hyperthyroidism is a medical term for an overactive thyroid gland. But Graves' disease causes other problems as well, including certain eye complaints and a skin disorder on the shins.

What causes Graves’ disease?

Graves' disease is an autoimmune disease that primarily affects the thyroid gland. In order to understand this disorder, the following is a brief explanation of how the immune system works. Our immune system protects the body against all foreign substances that enter the body. The immune system reacts by producing antibodies. These antibodies attack the ‘hostile’ substances and ensure that the body can rid itself of them.

In the event of an autoimmune disease, the body produces antibodies that do not attack those ‘hostile’ cells, but rather the body's own cells or tissues. Graves' disease causes the immune system to produce antibodies against the thyroid gland. As a result, the thyroid gland produces too much of the thyroid hormone.

Graves' disease can also affect the eyes through a separate, yet related disease called Graves' Ophthalmopathy. This is probably also caused by antibodies attacking the body. Furthermore, a skin disorder can develop on the shins, although this occurs in only a very small percentage of patients. The skin can become inflamed and swell.

The following risk factors increase the chance of getting Graves’ disease:

  • Smoking
  • Use of iodine
  • Stress
  • Pregnancy
  • Some infections
  • Heredity

Symptoms related to Graves’ disease

Graves' disease can also cause:

  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Excessive sweating
  • Rapid heartbeat 
  • Heat sensitivity
  • Struma (swelling of the thyroid gland)
  • Bulging eyes
  • Thick skin on the shins


 

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