Graves' Disease: Causes, Risk Factors and Complications

The most common cause is hyperthyroidism which occurs when disease-fighting immune system of your body is not functioning.

Updated: February 27, 2018

Graves' disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes the thyroid gland to over-produce thyroid hormone resulting in a condition known as hyperthyroidism. Thyroid is a small butterfly shaped gland that is located in the lower-front part of your neck which produces thyroid hormone. An excessive amount of thyroid hormone brings about a condition known as hyperthyroidism.

Causes of Graves' Disease:

The most common cause is hyperthyroidism which occurs when disease-fighting immune system of your body is not functioning. For a healthy person the normal immune system response is the production of antibodies which can fight a specific virus, bacterium or other foreign substance. In Graves' disease the body produces an antibody to one part of the cells in the thyroid gland. Usually, thyroid function is regulated by a hormone released by pituitary gland which is a tiny gland at the base of the brain.
Thyrotropin receptor antibody (TRAb) produced due to Graves' disease acts like the regulatory pituitary hormone. As a result of which TRAb overrides the normal regulation of the thyroid, causing an overproduction of thyroid hormones, a condition called hyperthyroidism.

Risk factors of Graves' Disease:

A number of factors that can increase the risk of this disease include:

Family history:

If you have a family member with Graves' disease, then you are more likely to develop it, too.


Although anyone can develop this disease women are much more likely to develop it than men.


Graves' disease usually develops in people younger than 40.


Pregnancy or recent childbirth may increase the risk of this disorder, particularly among women who are genetically susceptible.

Other autoimmune disorders:

People with other immune system disorders, such as type 1 diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis, have an increased risk of developing this disease.

Emotional or physical stress:

Stressful life events or illness may act as a trigger for developing Graves' disease among people who are genetically susceptible.


Cigarette smoking, which can affect the immune system, increases the risk of Graves' disease. Smokers who have Graves' disease are also at increased risk of developing Graves' ophthalmopathy.

Complications of Graves' Disease:

Complications of Graves' disease can include:

Pregnancy issues:

Miscarriage, preterm birth, fetal thyroid dysfunction, poor fetal growth, maternal heart failure and preeclampsia are the most possible complications of Graves' disease during pregnancy. Preeclampsia is a maternal condition that results in high blood pressure and other serious signs and symptoms.

Thyroid storm:

Thyroid storm is also known as accelerated hyperthyroidism or thyrotoxic crisis. It is very rare, but life-threatening complication of Graves' disease. It occurs when severe hyperthyroidism is untreated or treated inadequately. The sudden and drastic increase in thyroid hormones can produce a number of effects, including fever, profuse sweating, seizures, vomiting, diarrhea, delirium, severe weakness, irregular heartbeat, jaundice, severe low blood pressure, and coma. Thyroid storm requires immediate emergency treatment.

Heart disorders:

Left untreated, Graves' disease can lead to heart rhythm disorders, changes in the structure and function of the heart muscles, and will be unable to pump enough blood to the body resulting in congestive heart failure.

Brittle bones:

Untreated hyperthyroidism also can lead to osteoporosis which results in weak and brittle bones. The amount of calcium and other minerals contained by your bone are its strength. Too much thyroid hormone interferes with the ability of your body to incorporate calcium into your bones.

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