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How Graves’ Disease Can Cause Weight Loss and Weight Gain

What people living with Graves’ disease need to know about maintaining a healthy weight.

It is possible to maintain a healthy weight while treating Graves’ disease, and maintaining a healthy weight should be a goal of treatment.

Medically reviewed in August 2022

One of the most common symptoms of Graves’ disease is a change in weight.

In some cases, Graves’ disease causes unintentional weight loss. Unintentional weight loss refers to a person losing weight without making changes to their diet or activity level.

In other cases, Graves’ disease can contribute to weight gain. Weight gain can also occur following treatment for Graves’ disease.

These changes in weight are a result of the way Graves’ disease disrupts metabolism.

Thyroid hormone and metabolism
Graves’ disease is an autoimmune condition that causes an overproduction of thyroid hormone, one of the hormones that regulates metabolism.

Metabolism is a series of chemical processes the body uses to convert food into energy. It sometimes helps to think of metabolism alongside digestion. Digestion breaks food down into very small components that can be absorbed by the body. Metabolism is the next step in the process, where cells convert those components into energy.

The relationship between the thyroid, metabolism, hunger, and weight is complex. But a simplified explanation is that an overactive thyroid causes overactive metabolism. This means the body will burn through calories more quickly and easily than normal.

Weight loss occurs when the body is burning more calories than it consumes. When calorie burn exceeds calorie input, the body starts metabolizing stored energy sources, such as fat tissue. This concept is central to losing weight through diet and exercise.

But weight loss that occurs because of a condition like Graves’ disease is not the same as weight loss that results from eating less and exercising more. It’s a sign that important processes within the body are not working correctly.

Graves’ disease and weight gain
As mentioned above, some people with Graves’ disease gain weight. Again, this has to do with the way hyperthyroidism speeds up metabolism.

When metabolism speeds up, appetite increases, and people who have Graves’ disease may consume more calories as a result. If a person consumes enough calories, they can gain weight.

Weight gain can also occur following treatment for Graves’ disease. Treatment involves therapies that block or reduce the production of thyroid hormone. A person will typically gain weight following treatment. In some cases, a person may become overweight or obese following treatment.

Graves’ disease requires treatment
Do not let the idea of gaining weight prevent you from treating Graves’ disease. Hyperthyroidism is a serious health condition that can lead to complications, including thyroid eye disease (TED). It can also increase your risk of conditions like osteoporosis, heart failure, neurologic and cognitive problems, and many others.

It is possible to maintain a healthy weight while treating Graves’ disease, and maintaining a healthy weight should be a goal of treatment. A healthcare provider can guide you through what foods you should be eating, what foods you should be avoiding, how to exercise safely, and how to set realistic goals for maintaining a healthy weight.

Article sources open article sources

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Graves' Disease.
American Thyroid Association. Thyroid and Weight FAQs. 
American Thyroid Association. Treatment for hyperthyroidism increases the risk of obesity in some patients. Clinical Thyroidology for the Public, 2022. Vol. 13, No. 3.
Mayo Clinic. Graves' disease.
Cleveland Clinic. Thyroid Hormone.
Cleveland Clinic. Metabolism.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Your Digestive System & How it Works.
Mayo Clinic. Metabolism and weight loss: How you burn calories. November 10, 2020.
Kathleen Doheny. Hyperthyroidism and Weight Gain: What to Know. EndocrineWeb. November 23, 2021.
Angelos Kyriacou, Alexis Kyriacou, et al. Weight gain following treatment of hyperthyroidism-A forgotten tale. Clinical Obesity, 2019. Vol. 9, No. 5.
NHS.uk. Overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism).

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