What is Graves' Disease?
Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disease in which the thyroid gland is overactive, producing high levels of thyroid hormones. These high levels of thyroid hormones are referred to as hyperthyroidism. In a small percentage of people with Graves’ Disease, the fat and muscle behind the eyes are also affected, causing various symptoms. Eye symptoms often begin about six months before or after the diagnosis Graves’ disease has been made.
The cause of Graves’ disease is unknown. It is thought to be triggered by environmental and genetic factors. It is a fact that women are more likely to develop Graves’ disease than men.
Discover our visual aids for Graves’ disease.
Normal vision vs. Graves' disease
What are the symptoms of Graves' Disease?
Symptoms that can indicate whether you have Graves’ disease are:
- insomnia and hyperactivity
- hand tremor
- hair loss
- excessive sweating and heat intolerance
- weight loss despite increased appetite
- palpitations (heartbeat sensations that feel like pounding or racing)
- muscle weakness
- anxiety, restlessness, irritability and/or emotional instability
Symptoms that occur when the eyes of someone with Graves’ Disease are affected are:
- inflammation of and around the eye
- swelling of the upper and lower eyelids
- pain around the eyes
- double vision
- loss of vision (though this rarely occurs as a direct result of Graves’ Disease)
What to expect from Graves' Disease?
Treatment of Graves’ disease is directed at treatment of hyperthyroidism and thus at the thyroid gland. There are three methods:
- antithyroid drugs that reduce the production of thyroid hormone
- partial or complete destruction of the thyroid gland by ingestion of radioactive iodine
- partial or complete removal of the thyroid gland
For the eye problems that can occur as a result of Graves’ Disease, various treatments are possible, varying from pain medication to special glasses and surgery. The eye symptoms caused by Graves’ Disease can last for some time. Once the disease has stopped evolving, corrective surgery can generally improve the comfort, eliminate double vision and even improve the appearance of the eyes.
Discuss the best options for your specific case with your specialist.
More information about Graves' Disease
There is extensive information available about Graves’ disease. The information included is intended to inform you about the basics of this eye condition, and is not intended as a replacement for information from your physician or eye specialist. Information regarding assistive devices that can help you if you have been diagnosed with Graves’ disease is included. Our recommendations can be found under Tools and Resources.