Graves' disease is an autoimmune disease where the thyroid is overactive, producing an excessive amount of thyroid hormones (a serious metabolic imbalance known as hyperthyroidism and thyrotoxicosis). This is caused by autoantibodies to the TSH-receptor (TSHR-Ab) that activate that TSH-receptor (TSHR), thereby stimulating thyroid hormone synthesis and secretion, and thyroid growth (causing a diffusely enlarged goiter). The resulting state of hyperthyroidism can cause a dramatic constellation of neuropsychological and physical signs and symptoms, which can severely compromise the patients’ ability to maintain jobs and relationships.
Graves' Disease is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism in children and adolescents, and usually presents itself during early adolescence. It has a powerful hereditary component, affects up to 2% of the female population, and has a female:male incidence of 5:1 to 10:1. Graves’ disease is also the most common cause of severe hyperthyroidism, which is accompanied by more clinical signs and symptoms and laboratory abnormalities as compared with milder forms of hyperthyroidism. About 25-30% of people with Graves' disease will also suffer from Graves' ophthalmopathy (a protrusion of one or both eyes), caused by inflammation of the eye muscles by attacking autoantibodies.
Diagnosis is usually made on the basis of symptoms, although thyroid hormone tests may be useful. However, Graves’ thyrotoxicosis often gradually affects the life of the patients, usually for many months, but sometimes years, prior to the diagnosis. This is partially because symptoms can develop so insidiously that they go unnoticed; when they do get reported, they are often confused with other health problems. Thus, diagnosing thyroid disease clinically can be challenging. Nevertheless, patients can experience a wide range of symptoms and suffer major impairment in most areas of health-related quality of life.
There is no cure for Graves’ disease. There are, however, treatments for its consequences: hyperthyroidism, ophthalmopathy and mental symptoms. The Graves’ disease itself - as defined, for example, by high serum TSHR-Ab concentrations or ophthalmopathy - often persists after its hyperthyroidism has been successfully treated.
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