Graves' disease is caused by a malfunction in the body's disease-fighting immune system, although the exact reason why this happens is still unknown.
One normal immune system response is the production of antibodies designed to target a specific virus, bacterium or other foreign substance. In Graves' disease — for reasons that aren't well understood — the body produces an antibody to one part of the cells in the thyroid gland, a hormone-producing gland in the neck.
Normally, thyroid function is regulated by a hormone released by a tiny gland at the base of the brain (pituitary gland). The antibody associated with Graves' disease — thyrotropin receptor antibody (TRAb) — acts like the regulatory pituitary hormone. That means that TRAb overrides the normal regulation of the thyroid, causing an overproduction of thyroid hormones (hyperthyroidism).
Cause of Graves' ophthalmopathy
This condition results from a buildup of certain carbohydrates in the skin — the cause of which also isn't known. It appears that the same antibody that can cause thyroid dysfunction may also have an "attraction" to tissues surrounding the eyes.
Graves' ophthalmopathy often appears at the same time as hyperthyroidism or several months later. But signs and symptoms of ophthalmopathy may appear years before or after the onset of hyperthyroidism. Graves' ophthalmopathy can also occur even if there's no hyperthyroidism.
Jul. 01, 2014
- Bartalena L. Diagnosis and management of Graves disease: A global overview. Nature Reviews Endocrinology. 2013;9:724.
- Graves' disease. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. http://www.endocrine.niddk.nih.gov/pubs/graves/index.aspx. Accessed March 9, 2014.
- Longo DL, et al. Harrison's Online. 18th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2012. http://www.accessmedicine.com/resourceTOC.aspx?resourceID=4. Accessed March 9, 2014.
- Papadakis MA, ed., et al. Current Medical Diagnosis & Treatment 2014. 53rd ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2014. http://www.accessmedicine.com/resourceTOC.aspx?resourceID=1. Accessed March 9, 2014.
- Falgarone G, et al. Role of emotional stress in the pathophysiology of Graves' disease. European Journal of Endocrinology. 2013;168:R13.
- Ross DS. Treatment of Graves' hyperthyroidism. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed March 9, 2014.
- Genovese BM, et al. What is the best definitive treatment for Graves' disease? A systematic review of the existing literature. Annals of Surgical Oncology. 2013;20:660.
- Mayo CH. The surgical treatment of goiter. The Journal of the American Medical Association. 1904;XLII:1059.
- Riggin EA. Decision Support System. Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. March 3, 2014.
You Are ... The Campaign for Mayo Clinic
Mayo Clinic is a not-for-profit organization. Make a difference today.