Graves' disease, also known as diffuse toxic goiter, is the most common form of hyperthyroidism. More common in women than men, it affects about 3.2% of women and 0.32% of men in the United States. Not only can Graves' disease cause the rapid heartbeat, shaky hands, weakness, and heat intolerance found in all forms of hyperthyroidism, but it can also cause associated eye problems like exophthalmos (a swelling of the tissue behind the eyes which pushes the eyes forward).
The term "goiter" refers to the fact that your overworked gland may grow bigger at the lower front of your neck, and "diffuse" means that the whole gland is involved.
Diagnosis includes a test for thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) from the pituitary, which will be low if the pituitary has detected high levels of thyroid hormone in your blood. Measurement of thyroid hormone itself (thyroxine or T4) helps your doctor know how sick you are and serves as an initial guide for treatment. A radioactive iodine scan shows that in Graves' disease the whole thyroid is involved and not just one or more overactive lumps (nodules).
Treatment may be short or long term:
Once your hyperthyroidism is treated, what's left of your thyroid may produce too little hormone, but that can be replaced by thyroid hormone pills. You need to be checked regularly to be sure the dose is correct. The rare eye problems can usually be helped by drugs, or by radiation, or occasionally by surgery. They follow their own schedule, usually coming early in your Graves' disease, but sometimes late in the course of the condition. For the vast majority of patients, eye problems will be on the mild side.
Your thyroid gland can affect your baby's development in utero.