Rapper/songwriter Missy Elliot is in the news after announcing she was diagnosed with Graves’ disease in 2008.

Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disorder that is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism. An autoimmune disorder is when the body’s immune system (antibodies) attacks your body because it doesn’t recognize it’s own cells. The antibodies stimulate the thyroid gland (the gland at the base of your neck that secretes growth hormones) and causes the thyroid to go into overdrive (hyperthyroidism).

Graves’ disease is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism in children and adolescents. When the disease occurs later in life, it is assumed that the cause is an infection that is viral or bacterial. The signs and symptom’s of Graves’ disease depends upon whether the hyperthyroidism is mild or severe.

In Missy’s case, it sounds like her hyperthyroidism was severe enough to affect her neurologically. The major signs of Graves’ disease are an enlarged goiter (your neck will be noticeably enlarged), exophthalmos (protruding eyeballs) or “bug eyes” (due to the antibodies irritating the muscles of the eyes) and skin changes.

Symptoms of Graves’ disease may include severe mood swings, memory loss, mental problems and emotional irritability. Often people with Graves’ disease are diagnosed with emotional/mental problems that never resolve because the underlying cause (Graves’ disease) has not been treated.

The actress Sharon Stone’s 1992 portrayal of a beautiful serial killer with heat intolerance in ‘Basic Instinct’ is sometimes used to describe the symptoms of hyperthyroidism and Graves’ disease to nursing students.

Signs (what you see) and Symptoms (what you feel) include:

  • Enlarged neck (goiter)
  • Protruding eyes (exophthalmos)
  • Diarrhea, frequent defecation
  • Muscle weakness
  • Cardiac problems, such as irregular heartbeat and high blood pressure
  • Excessive sweating
  • Hot, moist skin
  • Heat intolerance (you feel hot most of the time, especially at night)
  • Nervousness
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Weight loss even though you’re eating more
  • If you experience these symptoms (especially the top 5) you should contact your personal care physician immediately!

    There is no cure for Graves’ disease, but the symptoms can be treated and regulated with medication therapy.

    This has been your Medical Minute.


    Any medical advice published on this blog is for your general information only and is not intended as a substitute for informed medical advice. You should not take any action before consulting with your personal physician or a health care provider. Sandrarose.com and its affiliates cannot be held liable for any damages incurred by following advice found on this blog.

    Thanks to loyal reader Monique for suggesting this post!

    Photos by Ian Gavan/Getty Images Europe