What Are Graves Disease and Hyperthyroidism?

There are several forms of hyperthyroidism, including Graves' diseases, toxic nodular goiter and thyroiditis.

Graves disease

Graves disease is an immune disorder that causes overproduction of the thyroid hormone thyroxine, resulting in hyperthyroidism.


Symptoms of Graves disease include:

  • Nervousness
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Weight loss
  • Fine hair
  • High blood pressure
  • An enlarged thyroid gland

Many patients with Graves disease also show signs of Graves ophthalmopathy, including prominent or bulging eyes, light sensitivity, double vision, red or inflamed eyes and puffy eyelids.


Northwestern Medicine physicians diagnose Graves disease by taking blood tests, conducting physical exams, using imaging tests and measuring radioactive iodine uptake. Treatment is focused on inhibiting the production of thyroid hormones with radioactive iodine therapy, anti-thyroid medications, beta blockers or surgery to remove the thyroid gland.


Treatment of Graves ophthalmopathy typically involves using artificial tears, but your physician may prescribe corticosteroids or recommend decompression surgery and eye muscle surgery.

Untreated, Graves disease can cause complications in pregnancy, heart rhythm disorders that may lead to congestive heart failure and osteoporosis. In rare cases, Graves disease can cause thyroid storm, a sudden increase in thyroid hormones causing fever, sweating, irregular heartbeat and coma.


Hyperthyroidism is a condition that develops when the thyroid gland is overactive and produces excess thyroxine, the hormone that regulates metabolism.

Types of hyperthyroidism

There are several types of hyperthyroidism, including Graves diseases, toxic nodular goiter and thyroiditis. Toxic nodular goiter is a condition in which one of the thyroid nodules becomes over-active, but does not produce the bulging eyes or skin problems that occur with Graves disease. Thyroiditis causes temporary hyperthyroidism followed by hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid).


Common symptoms of hyperthyroidism include:

  • Nervousness
  • Irritability
  • Perspiration
  • Fine, brittle hair
  • Weak muscles and shaky hands
  • Fast heartbeat and high blood pressure
  • Difficulty sleeping and fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Increased bowel movements
  • Confusion
  • Irregular menstrual cycle

The Endocrinology and Metabolism Program at Northwestern Memorial Hospital provides comprehensive diagnosis and treatment of cancers and diseases of the pituitary, thyroid, parathyroid, and adrenal glands. Specialized services are provided for diagnosis and treatment of diabetes, thyroid cancer, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and osteoporosis.