Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes the thyroid gland to overproduce thyroid hormones (hyperthyroidism). An autoimmune disorder means that your immune system attacks healthy body tissue. In Grave’s disease your thyroid gland, a gland at the front of your neck, releases too many hormones, which affect your metabolism. Too much thyroid hormone in your system causes a rapid heartbeat, nervousness or anxiety, excessive sweating, weight loss or sleep problems.
Eyes that bulge out with puffiness around the eye sockets are also very common in Graves’ disease. The skin on your shins might become thick, red and lumpy. Graves’ disease is more common in women and in people younger than 40 years of age, although it may affect anyone.
Emotional stress, pregnancy and heavy cigarette smoking can also increase the risk for Graves’ disease. People with other autoimmune disorders, such as type 1 diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis, may also have an increased risk.
A life-threatening complication of Graves’ disease, called a thyroid storm, is rare but can occur when there is a sudden drastic increase in thyroid hormones. Fever, excessive sweating, vomiting, diarrhea, severe weakness, yellow skin or eyes, rapid or irregular heartbeat, low blood pressure and even coma are signs of a thyroid storm, which requires immediate emergency care.