Thyroid disease is quite common. Current estimates suggest that it affects as many as 9% to 15% of the adult female population and a smaller percentage of adult males.7 This gender-specific prevalence almost certainly results from the underlying autoimmune mechanism for the most common forms of thyroid disease.
The thyroid gland is a gland that wraps around the windpipe, releases hormones, and affects every organ in our body—especially our heart. Thyroid hormone influences the force and speed of your heartbeat, your blood pressure, and your cholesterol level. As a result, a malfunctioning thyroid gland can cause problems that masquerade as heart disease or make existing heart disease worse.
Too little or too much of this crucial hormone can contribute to heart problems.
Hypothyroidism: The cardiac connection
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.
Hypothyroidism can affect the heart and circulatory system in a number of ways. Insufficient thyroid hormone slows our heart rate; the heart rate is typically 10 to 20 beats per minute slower than normal. Especially in patients who also have heart disease, it may also worsen the tendency for premature beats such as PVCs. It also makes the arteries less elastic, therefore the blood pressure rises in order to circulate the required amount of blood around the body. Elevated cholesterol levels, which contribute to narrowed, hardened arteries, are another possible consequence of low thyroid levels.
Another non-cardiac symptom—muscle aches—may also be relevant. Muscle aches can be a symptom of hypothyroidism as well as a side effect of cholesterol-lowering statin medications, a condition known as statin-related myalgia. In fact, research suggests that hypothyroidism is more common in people who can’t tolerate statins. “Some experts believe that treating hypothyroidism may relieve or decrease statin-related myalgia.”
Hyperthyroidism: Excess thyroid hormone
The opposite problem, hyperthyroidism, or too much thyroid hormone, is far less common, affecting less than 1% of the population. But it, too, can harm the heart.
The classic symptoms include sleeplessness, heat intolerance, excess sweating, weight loss, extreme hunger, and loose bowels.
Excess thyroid hormone also causes the heart to beat harder and faster and may trigger abnormal heart rhythms. One is atrial fibrillation, a disorganized rhythm in the heart’s upper chambers. A related symptom is palpitations, a sudden awareness of your heartbeat. People with hyperthyroidism may also have high blood pressure. In a person with clogged, stiff heart arteries, the combination of a forceful heartbeat and elevated blood pressure may lead to chest pain or angina and may worsen the preexisting heart disease.
Who’s 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 1diabetes, Addison’s disease, pernicious anemia, rheumatoid arthritis, and prematurely gray hair, radiation treatments to the head and neck, and vitiligo.
So, if you have any symptoms of an increase or decrease in heart rate which are accompanied by a change in body weight, fluctuations in cholesterol levels and blood pressure, change in skin texture or disturbance in appetite get your Thyroid test which needs to be done after overnight fasting.
Hypothyroidism is treated with thyroid hormone medication which needs to be taken empty stomach daily. Remember it has to be taken daily and consider it as a replacement, not the medicine.
Treatment of hyperthyroidism depends on the cause and may vary from medical to surgical management.
Remember thyroid disease is a fairly common treatable cause of heart conditions.
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