Grave’s disease, also called Basedow’s disease, is an autoimmune disease that causes the thyroid gland to produce excessive thyroid hormone, a condition called hyperthyroidism. Although other disorders may cause hyperthyroidism, Graves' disease is the most common cause. Autoimmune disorders occur when the immune system causes disease by attacking healthy tissues, and in Grave’s disease, the immune system creates antibodies, called thyroid-stimulating immunoglobulins (TSIs) that cause the thyroid to grow and make more thyroid hormone than the body needs. The exact cause is unknown although there seems to be a genetic connection like in other autoimmune disorders. Cases of Graves’ disease also tend to run in families. Graves' disease may affect anyone, but like many autoimmune disorders and for unknown reasons, it is more common among women and before the age of 40.
Graves’ disease is difficult to diagnose in its early stages and may be confused with other conditions that cause hyperthyroidism. Furthermore, symptoms show in many body organs because the thyroid hormone affects many body systems. Early symptoms include weight loss despite increased appetite, anxiety and insomnia, heat intolerance and sweating, chest pain and palpitations, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, increased stool frequency with or without diarrhea, irregular menstrual periods, muscle weakness, and many others. If left untreated, goiter and skin problems in the leg area may also develop. Grave’s disease is also the only type of hyperthyroidism that causes inflammation or bulging of the eyes called Graves’ orbitopathy or Graves’ ophthalmopathy. A large percentage (20-80%) of people with the condition develop eye problems. Complications include pregnancy issues, heart disorders, brittle bones, and thyroid storm – a rare but life threatening complication, also called accelerated hyperthyroidism or thyrotoxic crisis. Because all the symptoms are basically caused by excessive thyroid hormone, treatment primarily involves inhibiting the overproduction of thyroid hormones and lessening the severity of symptoms.
Grave’s disease is named for Robert J. Graves a doctor who first described it in a patient in 1835. The other name, Basedow’s disease is named after a German, Karl Adolph van Basedow, who described the disease in 1840. Basedow did not know that Graves had already described the same disease earlier. The term Basedow’s disease is more commonly used in continental Europe while Graves’ disease is more commonly used in the United States.