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Thyroid disease can lead to heart problems

Posted at 7:39 AM, Apr 01, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-01 08:39:27-04

The thyroid is a little butterfly-shaped organ in our neck that plays a huge role in many main body functions including the heart.

An estimated 6 percent of people in the United States have thyroid disease.

About 80% of people in the United States have an underactive thyroid, and that can cause a number of health problems like heart disease.

Just like an underactive thyroid, an overactive thyroid can cause health problems that can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure, and heart attacks.

“The heart is a muscle and has receptors for thyroid hormone, therefore, either the thyroid hormone is too high or too low, and that could essentially affect cardiac function,” said Corpus Christi Medical Center interventional cardiologist Dr. Christel Cuevas.

The cardiovascular signs and symptoms of thyroid disease are often noticeable to the patient.

“Hyperthyroidism or underactive thyroid presents with multiple symptoms such as cold intolerance, dry skin, fatigue, weight gain, or slow heart rate. This can affect the heart in several ways; this can cause an increase in cholesterol which can lead to narrowing and hardening of the heart arteries, high blood pressure, slow heartrate or build up of fluid around the heart. On the other side, hyperthyroidism is overactive or excessive thyroid hormone. This can present multiple symptoms such as heat intolerance, weight loss, rapid heart rate, hair loss, and restlessness. Hyperthyroidism can also cause the main pumping chamber of the heart to beat rapidly and over time this can potentially lead to heart failure,” said Cuevas.

It’s important to recognize that these effects on the heart are often reversible when your underlying thyroid disorder is recognized and fully treated.

“Thyroid disease affects every organ in your body, and it is a lifelong process treating thyroid disease. It affects your mental and physical well being. If you believe you are suffering from thyroid disease, please see your doctor for evaluation and treatment,” said Cuevas.

Those at risk of developing thyroid disease are those who have family history, people over the age of 60, and women are 5 to 8 times more likely to get this disease than men.
According to the NIH’s National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases’ 2012 data, nearly 5 percent of people in the U.S. over age 12 have hypothyroidism – that’s more than 9.5 million people.

Five large studies with over a million participants linked hypothyroidism to heart disease, heart attacks and heart-related death. Even patients with no overt signs of hypothyroidism but a high TSH level were also more prone to heart disease and dying from heart-related issues.

An estimated 6 percent of people in the United States have thyroid disease. Most of them—about 80%— have an underactive thyroid, or hypothyroidism. When thyroid levels drop, all the systems in the body slow down, triggering a range of symptoms that include fatigue, weight gain, cold intolerance, constipation, and dry skin. But these symptoms are very common in people as they grow older, including those with normal thyroid levels.

Cardiac Connection

The thyroid gland is located at the base of your throat. It is a butterfly-shaped glad that releases hormones that affect every organ in your body…especially your heart. The heart is a muscle and contains receptors for thyroid hormone, hence heart muscle growth and cardiac function may be influenced by too much or too little thyroid hormone. There is increasing evidence that even small changes in levels of thyroid hormone may be associated with measurable changes in how well the heart functions.

Thyroid hormone influences the strength and speed of your heartbeat, your blood pressure and your cholesterol level. As a result, too much or too little of this hormone can either

* masquerade as heart disease

* cause heart problems

* make existing heart disease worse

Causing heart problems – Hypothyroidism

Having an underactive thyroid gland can affect your heart and circulatory in several ways including:

* Raised cholesterol which contributes to increased narrowing and hardening of the arteries

* High blood pressure

* A slow heart rate

* Increased fluid around the heart

Subclinical hypothyroidism – which is a precursor to hypothyroidism itself – may also create changes in blood fats and blood vessel function which over the long-term, especially in those aged less than 65 years, can increase the risk of narrowed arteries.

Causing heart problems – Hyperthyroidism

Because an excess of thyroid hormone can cause the heart to beat more quickly and forcefully this can trigger abnormal heart rhythms such as atrial fibrillation (AF).

AF causes the upper chambers of the heart to quiver rather than pump steadily. This increases the dangers of clots forming in slow moving blood and travelling to the brain thus causing a stroke.

It can also cause the heart’s main pumping chamber to pump too fast. This combined with the quivering aorta can then lead to heart failure

Making existing heart disease worse.

An underactive thyroid makes bodily functions inefficient and will have a direct effect on muscular function and aerobic capacity so it’s not difficult to see how it can have a negative impact on those with heart problems.

If you already have high blood pressure which has in turn caused narrows arteries, the combination of a quicker, more forceful heartbeat caused by hyperthyroidism can cause angina.

In 2015 a large study which looked at almost 15,000 people, revealed that those with congestive heart failure were at significantly increased risk of death if they also had hypothyroidism.

The lead author of the study Connie Rhee, MD, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston said

“In heart failure patients, we found that both hypothyroidism overall and subclinical hypothyroidism increased the risk of death,”


If you have heart disease or are at risk of getting this AND you have symptoms that may relate to hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism you should ask your GP, endocrinologist or cardiac consultant for further tests.

Visit your doctor:

If you’re at risk of (or already have) heart disease and have symptoms of hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism, ask your primary care provider or cardiologist to consider testing your thyroid function. A simple blood test is usually all that’s needed. If the results show that your thyroid isn’t working normally, treatment may improve your heart-related problems.

Who is at risk for thyroid problems:

The following factors affect your odds of having a thyroid problem:

* Family history. People whose first-degree relatives (parents or siblings) have an underactive or overactive thyroid face a higher risk of a similar problem.

* Gender. Women are five to eight times more likely to have thyroid problems than men.

* Age. The prevalence of hypothyroidism rises with age, especially after age 60.

* Race. Whites have higher rates of hypothyroidism than Hispanic Americans and African Americans.

* Health history. Thyroid problems are more likely among people with a personal or family history of certain conditions, including type 1 diabetes, Addison’s disease, pernicious anemia, rheumatoid arthritis, premature gray hair, radiation treatments to the head and neck, and vitiligo.