PURPOSE: To determine the chronologic characteristics of Graves' ophthalmopathy in an incidence cohort of 120 patients. METHODS: We reviewed the community medical records of 120 patients residing in Olmsted County, Minnesota, in whom Graves' ophthalmopathy had been diagnosed between 1976 and 1990. RESULTS: Median age at the time of diagnosis of Graves' ophthalmopathy was 43 years; the minimum and maximum ages were 8 and 88 years, respectively. Among 108 patients with hyperthyroidism, ophthalmopathy was diagnosed in the six-month interval preceding the diagnosis of thyroid dysfunction in 20 patients (18.5%); ophthalmopathy was concurrent with the diagnosis of hyperthyroidism in 22 patients (20.3%); and ophthalmopathy developed in the six-month interval after thyroid diagnosis in 24 patients (22.2%). Ophthalmopathy was diagnosed more than six months before the diagnosis of hyperthyroidism in only four additional patients (3.7%), whereas ocular changes developed six months or more after thyroid disease in the remaining 38 patients (35.2%). There was no significant seasonal variation in the diagnosis of either thyroid dysfunction or ophthalmopathy. Treatment of hyperthyroidism with iodine-131 did not appear to influence the course of Graves' ophthalmopathy. CONCLUSIONS: There is a strong temporal relationship between the thyroid and eye manifestations of Graves' disease. The diagnosis of Graves' ophthalmopathy tends to follow the diagnosis of hyperthyroidism. Treatment with iodine-131 does not appear to influence the course of Graves' ophthalmopathy. Although both childhood Graves' disease and Graves' ophthalmopathy are uncommon, ophthalmopathy occurs at all ages.
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