Graves’ disease is the most common form of hyperthyroidism. It affects many Americans, including Olympic athlete Gail Devers, who won a gold medal in track after being diagnosed with and treated for Graves’ disease.
Graves’ disease is caused by problems with the immune system. Normally, the immune system defends the body against germs and viruses. In autoimmune diseases such as Graves’, the immune system attacks the body’s own tissues. In Graves’ disease, the body produces antibodies which make the thyroid gland produce too much thyroid hormone.
Diseases of the immune system tend to run in families and are about five times more common in women. Graves’ is linked to other autoimmune conditions, such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, premature gray hair, diabetes mellitus, arthritis and patchy loss of skin pigment (vitiligo).