OBJECTIVE: Graves' disease leads to thyroid enlargement and to reduction of tissue echogenicity. Our purpose was to correlate grey scale ultrasonography of the thyroid gland with clinical and laboratory findings in patients with Graves' disease. DESIGN: Fifty-three patients with Graves'disease were included in our study, 100 euthyroid volunteers served as control group. Free thyroxine (FT(4)), TSH and TRAb (TSH receptor antibodies) values were measured and correlated with sonographic echogenicity of the thyroid gland. METHODS: All patients and control persons underwent ultrasonographical histogram analyses under standardized conditions. Mean densities of the thyroid tissues were determined in grey scales (GWE). RESULTS: Compared with controls with homogeneous thyroid lobes of normal size (25.6 +/- 2.0GWE, mean +/- S.D.) echogenicity in patients with Graves' disease was significantly lower (21.3 +/- 3. 3GWE, mean +/- S.D., P < 0.0001). Among the patients with Graves' disease significant differences of thyroid echo levels were revealed for patients with suppressed (20.4 +/- 3.1 GWE, mean +/- S.D., n=34) and normalized TSH values (22.5 +/- 3.6GWE, mean +/- S.D., n=19, P < 0.02). Significantly lower echogenicities were also measured in cases of persistent elevated TRAb levels (19.9 +/- 2.9GWE, mean +/- S.D., n=31) in comparison with normal TRAb levels (22.9 +/- 3.5 GWE, mean +/- S.D., n=22, P < 0.0015). No correlation could be verified between echogenicity and either still elevated or already normalized FT(4) values or the thyroid volume. In coincidence of hyperthyroidism and Graves' ophthalmopathy (19.7 +/- 3.5GWE, mean +/- S.D., n=23) significantly lower echogenicity was measured than in the absence of ophthalmological symptoms (22.3 +/- 3.3GWE, mean +/- S.D., n=30, P < 0.016). Patients needing active antithyroid drug treatment revealed significantly lower thyroid echogenicity (20.3 +/- 3.1 GWE, mean +/- S.D., n=40) than patients in remission (23.7 +/- 3.4 GWE, mean +/- S.D., n=13, P < 0.001). Statistical evaluation was carried out using Student's t-test. CONCLUSIONS: Standardized grey scale histogram analysis allows for supplementary judgements of thyroid function and degree of autoimmune activity in Graves' disease. Whether these values help to estimate the risk of recurrence of hyperthyroidism after withdrawal of antithyroid medication should be evaluated in a prospective study.