Graves' disease represents a basic defect in the immune system, causing production of immunoglobulins (antibodies) which stimulate and attack the thyroid gland causing growth of the gland and overproduction of thyroid hormone. It is leading cause of hyperthyroidism. Graves' disease is not curable, but is a completely treatable disease. The more serious complications of prolonged, untreated, or improperly treated Graves' disease include weakened heart muscle leading to heart failure; osteoporosis, or possible severe emotional disorders.
There are several elements contributing to the development of Graves' disease. A genetic predisposition to autoimmune disorders, and infections and stress play a part. Graves' disease may have its onset after an external stressor. In other instances, it may follow a viral infection or pregnancy. Many times the exact cause of Graves' disease is simply not known. It is not contagious, although it has been known to occur coincidentally between husbands and wives.
Graves' disease occurs in less that 0.025% of the population. It is more prevalent among females (8:1 more than men) and during middle age, although it also occurs in children and in the elderly.