In 1835, Irish doctor Robert J. Graves noticed an autoimmune disease in a patient that was characterized by a goiter (enlarged thyroid). He quickly wrote up a first description of it, and the condition became known as Graves' disease. Graves was talented in painting and linguistics as well as in medicine — he was once arrested as a German spy in Austria on the grounds that no "Englishman" could speak German that well. Graves also introduced his contemporaries to the ideas of timing a pulse with a watch and offering food and drink to people with fevers, not withholding it as was the common practice at the time [sources: Toft, Encyclopaedia Brittanica].
Five years after Graves' discovery, German Karl Adolph van Basedow also observed hyperthyroidism in a patient and subsequently wrote up a description of it, unaware of Graves' work. Continental Europeans tend to refer to the disease as Basedow's disease while Americans and Brits call it Graves' disease [sources: Toft].
Graves' disease occurs when the thyroid gland produces too much thyroid hormone. It's also informally termed an overactive thyroid. Like many autoimmune diseases, it strikes women more often than men. Graves' disease also appears to be genetic, as it tends to run in families. Early signs of Graves' include weight loss, anxiety, chest palpitations, sweating, bulging eyes and a goiter. If the goiter gets very large, it can be visible as a swollen neck, and cause swallowing problems and sleep disturbances [source: Toft].