Graves' disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes the white blood cells that normally involved in the body's defense system to attack the body's own tissues. The tissues most affected by this attack are the thyroid gland and the tissues around the eye. The thyroid gland responds by producing excessive amounts of thyroid hormone, which results in symptoms like nervousness, stress, depression, extreme weight loss, muscle weakness, rapid heartbeat, confusion and a number of other health issues.
When the tissue around the eye is attacked by these white blood cells, there is inflammation and swelling. The inflammation cause redness and pain, while the swelling causes puffiness around the eyes and the bulging of the eyes. As a result of this swelling, the eyelids cannot close completely resulting in dry eyes and irritation. Swelling can also lead to increased pressure behind the eye which restricts blood flow and causes pressure-pain, or deep headaches. In severe cases, the swollen tissue can push on the optic nerve and decrease vision.
Not all people with Graves' disease are affected in the same way. Some living with Graves' do not experience the eye-related symptoms, but they may still appear later as the disease progresses. Many people experience symptoms of Graves' without knowing anything about the disease or what the real problem might be.
To learn more about Graves' disease and options for treatment and patient support, visit gdatf.org.