What Is Graves' Disease?

Graves’ disease (also called hyperthyroidism) is a condition that causes your thyroid to make more thyroid hormone than your body needs. Thyroid hormone controls how your organs work and plays an important role in controlling body temperature. In girls, it also controls menstrual cycles (monthly periods).

What Is the Thyroid Gland?

The thyroid gland is a small, butterfly-shaped gland in the front of the neck. It makes the thyroid hormones called triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). The thyroid changes T4 into T3, which is the more active thyroid hormone.

T4 and T3 have important jobs in the body. They help regulate growth and brain development, heart rate, body temperature and digestion. They also help control the way many of your organs work and control girls’ monthly periods.

Diagram of the thyroid

What Causes Graves’ Disease?

Graves’ disease is caused by your child’s body mistakenly making antibodies that attack the thyroid gland. These antibodies cause the thyroid gland to make more thyroid hormone than your child’s body needs.

What Are the Symptoms of Graves’ Disease?

If your child has Graves’ disease, he or she might have some of these symptoms:

  • A goiter (a mound caused by an enlarged thyroid gland) on his or neck
  • Bulging eyes
  • Nervousness or crankiness
  • Shaky hands
  • Doing poorly in school or having poor handwriting
  • Fast or irregular heartbeat
  • Frequent bowel movements
  • Not sleeping well
  • Not tolerating heat (feeling too hot)
  • Growing very quickly
  • Losing weight despite having a larger appetite
  • Irregular periods in girls

Learn about the diagnosis and treatment of childhood Graves' disease >

Rev. 9/2016. MassGeneral Hospital for Children and Massachusetts General Hospital do not endorse any of the brands listed on this webpage. This webpage is intended to provide health information so that you can be better informed. It is not a substitute for medical advice and should not be used to treatment of any medical conditions.