Need Help? (888) GET LABS

How Serious Is Graves’ Disease?

Medically Approved by Dr. Edward Salko

Table of Contents

doctor performing routine medical checkup

Graves’ disease (GD) is what healthcare experts associate with the overstimulation of the thyroid gland. This is characterized by the excess production of thyroid hormones or hyperthyroidism. While it’s not necessarily a life-threatening condition on its own, untreated GD can become serious because of complications such as cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and thyroid storms. Learn more about the severity of Graves’ syndrome as you read on.

What Is Graves’ Disease? 

Graves’ disease, also known as exophthalmic goiter, results from hyperthyroidism, in which the thyroid gland secretes excessive amounts of thyroid hormones. It’s an autoimmune disorder, which means your immune system mistakenly attacks your cells due to a genetic malfunction. For this reason, the true cause of Graves’ hyperthyroidism remains unknown. 

In terms of its link to the overstimulation of the thyroid gland, it is generally associated with the thyrotropin receptor antibody (TRAb). This antibody mimics the regulatory function of the pituitary gland, which regulates the secretion of thyroid hormones. As a result, it suspends the controls in the production of the hormones, leading to a hyperactive thyroid gland.  

Nonetheless, the following symptoms are associated with GD:

  • Enlargement of the thyroid gland (goiter)
  • Weight loss 
  • Too much sweating and hot flashes
  • Irregular heartbeat 
  • Anxiety and nervousness
  • Mood swings
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Uncontrollable muscle movement
Did You Know? You can check the state of your thyroid hormones through thyroid function tests. These include screening for any abnormalities in the activities of hormones like T3 and T4, as well as the thyroid-stimulating hormone produced by the pituitary gland in the brain. Learn more about these hormones through our guide on understanding thyroid hormones.

Who Are At Risk of Grave’s Hyperthyroidism? 

Although little is understood regarding the mechanism of Graves’ disease, the risk of developing the disease increases with the following factors:

  • Sex and Age: Research showed that women have a higher likelihood of developing exophthalmic goiter than men. In fact, the ratio between cases of GDin women compared to men is 5:1. On the other hand, women between the ages of 30 and 60 are also more likely to develop the illness, with a strong emphasis on those below 40 years old. 
  • Family history of Graves’ Disease: Although little is understood about how GD forms, it’s generally accepted that the condition can be traced to a malfunctioning gene. With this in mind, your susceptibility to Graves’ syndrome increases if anyone in your family has been diagnosed with the disease. 
  • Existing autoimmune disorders: If you’re already under treatment for other autoimmune disorders, keep an eye on GD as your risk for the condition heightens. These include type 1 diabetes, Sjögren syndrome, adrenal insufficiency, and rheumatic arthritis. 
  • Stress: Exposure to stress, whether it’s physical or psychological, can dramatically increase your risk for GD if you have the genes that could activate the illness. 
  • Pregnancy: Once you get pregnant, you release the hormone human chorionic gonadotropin, or hCG, specifically from the developing embryos. However, hCG not only confirms pregnancy via blood tests or urine tests, but it also triggers the increased secretion of thyroid hormones. Although this increase usually stabilizes by the second trimester, people with a genetic disposition to Graves’ hyperthyroidism may have prolonged, even permanent, hyperthyroidism. 
  • Lifestyle choices: Habits such as smoking can trigger the development of Graves’ ophthalmopathy (bulging eye and retracting eyelids). In fact, smokers are twice at risk for the condition than non-smokers. On the other hand, people with a high-iodine diet can also have the illness as they are more prone to hyperthyroidism than those with a full-balanced diet. 
Did You Know? Smoking is a risk factor for various autoimmune disorders due to its role in compromising immunity. That said, people susceptible to these diseases are advised to quit smoking the right way. To ensure success, it helps to monitor the levels of nicotine that need to be detoxified from your body through a blood test for smoking

Complications of Graves’ Disease

taking blood in laboratory

Symptoms of hyperthyroidism can be overlooked or mistakenly associated with other diseases. However, if you are at a higher risk of developing Graves’ hyperthyroidism, it’s crucial to consult your doctor regarding screening. Otherwise, the condition can escalate into the following complications. 

  • Cardiovascular problems

Stroke, heart rhythm disorders, and even fatal heart failure are some of the most notable complications of untreated GD. In fact, the prevalence of de novo heart failure (type of heart failure among those without any medical history of heart disease) is at 5.4% among those with Graves disease.

  • Osteoporosis: GD influences bone health in that the release of the thyroid hormone thyroxine speeds up bone turnover. A natural part of bone mineral regulation, bone turnover is the process of breaking down hypermineralized bone to reabsorb calcium, phosphate, and collage products, leading to the remodeling of new bones. If bone turnover is faster than the formation of bone replacements, your skeletal system becomes weaker. This results in conditions like osteoporosis. 
Did You Know? Your healthcare provider can evaluate your risk for osteoporosis. Also, this bone health problem, although common among women, does not exclude men. You can protect yourself from osteoporosis through proper screening and by being selective about the food you eat.  
  • Motility issues: Aside from bone health, GD also impacts muscular functions. It is linked to decreased muscle performance and strength, adversely affecting movement. In addition, hyperthyroidism is also associated with hyperkinetic movement disorders like tremors and parkinsonism. However, the true relationship between these conditions remains a subject for further research. 
  • Infertility for women: Since the thyroid gland has an active role in keeping a balanced production of reproductive hormones, it’s not surprising that malfunctions caused by GD can lead to infertility. In fact, a study published in the International Journal of Endocrinology underscored the prevalence of infertility among women with GD. 53.3% of the GD patients involved in the clinical trial suffered from infertility, and 47% had a similar condition among those with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. 
  • Ophthalmopathy: Graves’ disease ophthalmopathy (GED) or thyroid eye disease results from the swelling around the eyes due to the accumulation of carbohydrates in the muscles and tissues. It’s the most notable indication of GD and can potentially affect your eyesight if not addressed. 
  • Dermopathy: Clinically known as pretibial myxedema or Graves’ dermopathy, this condition is a rare consequence of GD. Patients with this dermopathy have localized thick scale-like plaques covering the skin and prominent swelling in the lower leg. 

Common Treatment for Graves’ Syndrome

While there is no cure for GD currently, treatment for the condition has been long placed to help patients live their lives without suffering from the symptoms. These treatment options include the following:

  • Antithyroid drugs: These prescribed medications block the thyroid from producing more thyroid hormones. Examples of antithyroid drugs include methimazole, carbimazole, and propylthiouracil. 
  • Radioactive iodine (RAI): Using radioactive iodine I-131, an iodine that releases radiation, doctors destroy thyroid cells that overproduce thyroid hormones. Although it may seem daunting that the treatment uses radiation, the procedure is 100% safe and is non-invasive. You’ll be given either a pill to swallow or a liquid injected into your bloodstream. 
  • Surgery (thyroidectomy): In cases where the GD patient does not respond to oral medication and RAI, there’s a chance that your thyroid gland will have to be removed. After the surgery, you will likely take thyroid hormone replacements for life. 
Lifesaving tip: Treatment for GD is tailored to the severity of your illness and other health factors. While these treatment options are generally applied, your doctor will check for other medical conditions and overall wellness. That said, make sure to consult your healthcare provider for the diagnosis and treatment of Graves’ disease.  

Frequently Asked Questions

expressive senior female posing indoor on phone

Can you recover from Graves’ disease?

Recovery from GD can be subjective, and research shows that remission varies based on the patient’s response to treatment. In most cases, those with GD carry the condition for the rest of their lives. However, the complications can be minimized through medication and therapy. 

Can you live a normal life if you have Graves’ disease?

You can live a normal life even if you’re diagnosed with GD, provided that you stick to your treatment plan and consistently check with your healthcare provider, especially if symptoms recur frequently. Given that Graves’ syndrome is a lifelong condition, keeping track of your thyroid function, especially the overproduction of hormones, helps you take control of your health. 

Is Graves disease a life-threatening disease?

If not treated promptly, Graves’ disease can be fatal. While the condition itself does not pose any immediate threat to your health, keeping it untreated paves the way to complications that jeopardize your heart functions and bone health. It brings you closer to life-threatening conditions like stroke and heart failure. 

The Bottom Line

Many aspects of living a full life can be disrupted by GD if you don’t seek immediate treatment. While symptoms of the condition can be easily associated with other diseases, it’s imperative to know your risk, such as having a family history of hyperthyroidism, a diagnosis of another autoimmune disease, and so on. To ensure you get tested for Graves’ disease, make sure you undergo a wellness checkup once a year, especially if you experience health problems. 

Share this article


Save up to
80% on meds!

We now offer pharmacy discounts through our PersonalabsRx platform.

We now offer pharmacy discounts through our PersonalabsRx platform.

Would you like to sign up for PersonalabsRx?