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How Can Your Malfunctioning Thyroid Affect Your Heart?
The thyroid gland, which is located in the front of the neck, is a very important endocrine gland responsible for producing two essential hormones – T3 and T4 and secreting them into our blood. These two hormones have a major role in maintaining our body’s normal temperature, metabolism, growth, and development.
In fact, these two hormones are responsible for normal brain development during childhood and adolescence. This is because Thyroxine (T3) affects literally every living cell, tissue, and organ in the human body.
Well, what happens when the thyroid gland is for some reason acting out?
Unfortunately, what happens are the symptoms reflecting themselves on the whole body. Basically, whenever a thyroid disorder is at the question, other body systems are affected as well.
What we chose to talk about today is the possible link between thyroid problems and heart problems. But first, let’s review some of the most common thyroid problems, shall we?
What are the most common thyroid problems?
You probably have heard about some of the common thyroid problems. From nodules, cancer, inflammation, and swelling, the fact is that there are a lot of different health issues that can happen when it comes to your thyroid gland.
But of course, there are some health issues that are more common than others. Hypothyroidism and hypothyroidism are among the most common ones today. What can you tell about these two common health problems?
Let’s review them.
- Hyperthyroidism [i]– a condition which, as the name suggests, characterizes itself with excess production of the thyroid hormone – Thyroxine (T3). Since we are talking about a hormone which takes part in maintaining many body functions, when something as hyperthyroidism happens, often a condition like it is hard to diagnose. Symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, sudden weight loss, nervousness, tremor, changes in the menstrual period and many others occur as well. These are all common symptoms of other health issues as well.
- Hypothyroidism – Contrary to hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism [ii]is a condition which characterizes itself with the inability to produce enough thyroid hormone – again, we are talking about the main thyroid hormone, thyroxine (T3). Once again, the symptoms which develop are often similar to the symptoms caused by the common health issues. Symptoms include weight gain, dry skin, fatigue, constipation, high cholesterol and other. Hypothyroidism is yet another medical issue that is hard to diagnose, and your doctor might need some time and tests to determine what is really wrong with you.
If you wonder how common are the thyroid problems really, pay attention to the statistical information [iii]that we have to share with you.
- It has been estimated that over 20 million Americans have been diagnosed with some type of a thyroid disease/disorder.
- From these 20 million Americans, it is suggested that up to 60% are living with the symptoms caused by thyroid disease/disorder without being aware of their existence.
- Women are more likely to develop thyroid problems than men.
- Most thyroid problems are to be managed until the end of life using proper medications.
- Undiagnosed thyroid problems put the patient at life-threatening risk from developing cardiovascular diseases and many other serious conditions.
- It has been suggested that over 12% of the American population will develop some sort of thyroid problems during their life.
Is there a link between the thyroid gland and the cardiovascular system?
If you have paid attention throughout what we have had to tell you until now, you probably can give the answer to this question all by yourself. To make it simpler – the answer is yes, there is a connection between your thyroid gland and your heart, or the whole cardiovascular system to be more precise.
If you remember, we have previously stated that the thyroid gland is linked to every single cell, tissue and organ in the human body making its job – producing and secreting the thyroid hormones T3 and T4 a highly responsible job.
Well, those of us who do not suffer from any thyroid problems should be lucky that their thyroid is working with full steam! The thing is that whenever your body is experiencing lower or higher than normal levels of thyroid hormones, all of the body’s systems respectively slow down or speed up, including the cardiovascular system as well.
These changes are potentially life-threatening since we are talking about changes that affect the very same machine that basically maintains our life in motion – the heart. The tough part is recognizing the thyroid problem and linking it to the occurrence of the cardiovascular problems.
As we mentioned earlier, the thyroid problems often mimic the symptoms of various different health issues and problems, making this problem harder to recognize and diagnose in time.
In most cases, by the time the thyroid problem is diagnosed, there are already plenty of different symptoms that affect the health condition of the patient, and most importantly there are plenty of symptoms that come from the cardiovascular system as well.
But let’s discuss the link between hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism and the cardiovascular system as two of the most common thyroid gland problems.
Hyperthyroidism and heart disease
As you have learned, hyperthyroidism occurs when your thyroid gland produces and secretes excess thyroid hormones into your blood. In most cases, the exact causes for thyroid problems, including hyperthyroidism, are hard to determine and are left unclear when the treatment has already begun.
Since we are talking about a condition that characterizes itself with excess production of the Thyroxine hormones (T3), a hormone which we mentioned to affect the work of our heart, it is expected that certain symptoms will develop.
In fact, some of the main symptoms of hyperthyroidism come from the cardiovascular system. These symptoms include rapid heartbeat (tachycardia), high blood pressure, nervousness, palpitations, and many others. There are several different heart problems that are usually caused by the presence of hyperthyroidism.
- Rapid heartbeat (tachycardia) – This is the very first cardiovascular symptom that is linked to the occurrence of the thyroid problem. Because your thyroid is producing excess Thyroxine, it triggers your heart to beat faster than the normal heart rate.
- Atrial fibrillation – Rapid heartbeat is not the only symptom that is linked to the cardiovascular system and occurs due to the excess Thyroxine in the body. In fact, the rapid heartbeat is a symptom that often leads to the most common complication of hyperthyroidism – atrial fibrillation, according to a study [iv]published in the American Journal of Medicine. Atrial fibrillation is the term that is used to refer to an abnormal heart rhythm characterized by rapid and irregular heart beating, or to be more precise – of the atria. This is also the most common arrhythmia of them all with around 2.7 Americans diagnosed with this condition. Atrial fibrillation is essential to be diagnosed and treated as soon as possible since it increases the risk of stroke.
- Palpitations – Yet another symptom is palpitation which the patients describe as a sudden awareness for their heartbeat, thinking about how their heart is beating rapidly due to the excess Thyroxine in their blood.
- Chest pain – Since there is a rapid heartbeat, that means that the heart muscles require more oxygen to be brought by blood to it. And whenever this is an impossible mission for your blood vessels, chest pain or so-called angina develops.
- High blood pressure – Unfortunately, most of the patients diagnosed with hyperthyroidism suffer from high blood pressure as well. This is unfortunate because as you may know, high blood pressure raises its own risks for heart attack and stroke among many others as well.
- Heart failure – When all of the previously mentioned heart problems gather up, and the patient does not receive the required treatment in time, the risk of heart failure raises until heart failure finally happens. Due to the excess Thyroxine in the blood and the weak heart and its inability to pump enough blood, heart failure happens, and the patient’s life is in danger.
Hypothyroidism and heart disease
Hypothyroidism is actually a lot more common than hyperthyroidism, but that does not make this condition more dangerous than hyperthyroidism, or the other way around. Hypothyroidism also affects the heart in many ways. Because it causes the thyroid to produce fewer thyroid hormones than needed, all of the body systems are to feel the consequences of the reduced production of thyroid hormones in the blood.
Opposite to hyperthyroidism, what hypothyroidism does is slows [v]down the heart rate due to the lower levels of Thyroxine in the blood. High blood pressure is present in both cases, as in the case of hypothyroidism that happens because the blood vessels are less elastic and the heart needs to pump more blood in order to maintain the blood circulating in the body.
Heart failure is yet again to be expected when hypothyroidism is left untreated or undiagnosed of course. Hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism are both dangerous health issues that have to be diagnosed and treated in time; otherwise, the life of the patient is put in danger, and that is not only because it is the heart that is affected by these common conditions.
There are a lot of things that can and will go wrong if there is something going on with your thyroid gland. Let’s say it is cancer or nodules or even an autoimmune disease such as Grave’s disease that causes your thyroid gland to act out.
But can you imagine all of your body systems and organs being affected as a result? Or more specifically, your heart? Yes, that is true, and in fact, your life can be in danger because of it.
Hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism, both quite common thyroid problems, affect your heart, causing different heart symptoms to develop and when left untreated threaten to cause heart failure. That is unfortunate to know, but it is essential for anyone who has been dealing with tachycardia, sudden weight loss or weight gain, nervousness whose cause it’s yet to be determined.
Perhaps it is nothing, or perhaps it is your thyroid gland that is at stake – do yourself a favor and consult your doctor. You never know – perhaps that is the way that you will protect yourself against heart failure for good!
[i] Leo SD, Lee SY, Braverman LE, (2016 August) Hyperthyroidism, The Lancet 388(10047): 906–918
[ii] Kostoglou-Athanassiou I, Ntalles K, (2010 April-June) Hypothyroidism – new aspects of an old disease, Hippokratia 14(2): 82–87
[iii] Vanderpump MPJ, (2011 September) The epidemiology of thyroid disease, British Medical Bulletin 99:39-51
[iv] Bruere H, Fauchier L, Bernard Brunet A, Pierre B, Simeon E, Babuty D, Ciementy N, (2015 January) History of thyroid disorders in relation to clinical outcomes in atrial fibrillations, The American Journal of Medicine 128(1):30-7
[v] Udovcic M, Pena RH, Patham B, Tabatabai L, Kansara A (2017 April-June) Hypothyroidism and the heart, Methodist DeBakey Cardiovascular Journal 13(2): 55–59