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What Is the Link Between Thyroid Disease and Diabetes?

What Is the Link Between Thyroid Disease and Diabetes?

Thyroid disease and diabetes are closely linked due to the way both conditions play important roles in metabolism, blood sugar, and insulin. Knowing more about the relationship between thyroid disorders and diabetes can lead to the prevention of one or both conditions and improved quality of life.

Thyroid disease and diabetes are common comorbid disorders, which means that many people who have thyroid disease also have diabetes and vice versa. Knowing more about the link between these two conditions can empower you to take the right steps needed to stay healthy and reduce your risk.

Here’s more about the relationship between thyroid disease and diabetes and how to contact Lompoc Valley Medical Center if you need treatment for one or both conditions.

What Is Thyroid Disease?

Thyroid disease is a blanket term for any condition that affects the functioning of your thyroid gland and its ability to produce the right amount of hormones. The thyroid is the small, butterfly-shaped gland at the base of your neck. The hormones produced by your thyroid play important roles in your metabolism, blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature, to name a few.

The most common types of thyroid disease are hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism.

In hyperthyroidism, the thyroid makes too much thyroid hormone. Also known as an overactive thyroid, this condition causes symptoms including unintentional weight loss, rapid or irregular heart rate, anxiety, and sleep loss.

In hypothyroidism, the thyroid makes too little thyroid hormone. Also known as an underactive thyroid, this condition causes symptoms including weight gain, fatigue, muscle weakness, and depression.

Thyroid diseases are typically treated using medications that regulate thyroid hormone production. In some instances, you may also be given beta blockers to reduce your symptoms or have surgery to remove the thyroid.

How Common Are Thyroid Disease and Diabetes?

More than 12% of Americans will develop a thyroid disease at some point during their life, reports the American Thyroid Association (ATA). The ATA adds that an estimated 20 million Americans already have some type of thyroid disease and that up to 60% of these individuals are not aware that they have thyroid disease.

An estimated 37.3 million Americans have diabetes, which is 11.3% of the U.S. population, reports the CDC. It adds that 8.5 million people, or 23% of U.S. adults, remain undiagnosed with diabetes.

In a 2019 study published in Endocrine Reviews, researchers evaluated the relationship between thyroid disorders and diabetes. They found that autoimmune thyroid disorders affect between 17% to 30% of adults with type 1 diabetes. They also learned that thyroid disorders are more common among people with type 2 diabetes than among the general population.

How Does Thyroid Disease Affect Blood Sugar?

Your body uses blood sugar (also known as glucose) for energy. The hormones produced by your thyroid help regulate your metabolism by converting foods into energy.

When your thyroid isn’t working properly, the foods you eat may not be converted into energy. This can lead to high blood sugar levels, which increase the risk of diabetes. If you already have diabetes, thyroid problems can make it more difficult for you to manage your condition.

High blood sugar is also known as hyperglycemia. This condition can contribute to metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a group of conditions that include high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol, high blood sugar, and excess body fat around the waist. Metabolic syndrome increases your risk for diabetes and other chronic conditions, including heart disease and stroke.

How Does Thyroid Disease Affect Insulin?

Insulin helps your body use glucose for energy, which can lower your blood sugar level. However, an overactive thyroid can cause your body to use up insulin more quickly than usual. This can increase your risk for type 2 diabetes. If you already have diabetes, you may find that you need higher doses of insulin to avoid spikes in blood sugar.

On the other hand, if you have an underactive thyroid, your metabolism will be lower than usual. This can lead to low blood sugar levels, which is known as hypoglycemia. If you already have diabetes, hypoglycemia can cause you to experience symptoms, including dizziness, confusion, and loss of consciousness.

What Are Other Links Between Diabetes and Thyroid Disease?

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease. This means that if you have type 1 diabetes, your immune system will attack the cells that produce insulin.

Some types of thyroid diseases are also autoimmune disorders, such as Graves’ disease and Hashimoto's thyroiditis. If your immune system is already compromised by an autoimmune disorder, your risk for other disorders increases. According to a 2016 study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, the majority of people with type 1 diabetes will eventually develop Hashimoto's thyroiditis. Also, an estimated 10% of people with type 1 diabetes will develop Graves’ disease.

Problems with the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis can also lead to thyroid disease and/or diabetes. The HPA axis consists of the hypothalamus of the brain, the pituitary gland, and the adrenal glands. These organs work together to regulate cortisol, which is a stress hormone.

If any of the organs that make up the HPA axis are affected, your body could make too much or too little cortisol. Too much cortisol can lead to high blood sugar, and too little cortisol can lead to low blood sugar. Imbalances in cortisol can upset the balance of all your other hormones, including insulin and thyroid hormone.

How Can I Avoid Diabetes If I Have Thyroid Disease and Vice Versa?

If you have thyroid disease or diabetes, the best thing you can do to reduce your risk for the other condition is to work closely with your doctor to manage your current condition.

If You Have Thyroid Disease

Thyroid diseases can usually be effectively treated using medications.

An underactive thyroid can be treated with medication that supplies your body with extra thyroid hormone. An overactive thyroid can be treated with medications that prevent or block your thyroid hormone from making any more hormone.

Radioiodine and surgery are other treatment options for an overactive thyroid. Radioiodine destroys the cells in your thyroid that make the hormone. Surgery involves removing a part or all of the thyroid. Both of these treatments result in permanent hypothyroidism, and you may be required to take thyroid replacement hormones for life to avoid other problems.

If You Have Diabetes

Diabetes can often be effectively managed with a combination of medications, diet, and exercise. Maintaining a healthy weight is also essential to successfully managing diabetes and reducing your risk for thyroid disease.

Take all your diabetes medications as directed. Check your blood sugar levels regularly, and notify your doctor right away if they are too high or too low.

Work with your doctor to create a healthy diabetes meal plan. Eat healthy carbohydrates, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and low-fat dairy products. Many of these foods are also high in fiber, which can help you control your blood sugar.

Also, eat plenty of healthy fats like avocados, walnuts, and olive oil, and heart-healthy fish like tuna, salmon, and mackerel. Avoid eating foods that are high in sodium, cholesterol, trans fats, and saturated fats—like bacon, donuts, and pizza.

Exercise on most days of the week. Do a combination of aerobic and strength-training exercises, which can help regulate your hormones, lose excess weight, and improve your heart health. The CDC recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (such as brisk walking) every week, plus muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a week that work all your major muscle groups.

When To See a Doctor

Make an appointment with your doctor right away if you are experiencing symptoms of a thyroid disorder or diabetes. Your doctor can perform a series of diagnostic tests to determine the root cause of your symptoms.

Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) symptoms include:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Muscle or joint pain
  • Constipation
  • Feeling cold all the time
  • Unexplained weight gain
  • Depression
  • Extreme tiredness, or fatigue
  • Slow heart rate
  • Not sweating enough
  • Pale, dry skin
  • Dry hair
  • Puffiness in the face
  • Hoarse voice
  • Unusually heavy menstrual bleeding
  • High LDL cholesterol

Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) symptoms include:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Increased appetite
  • Rapid or irregular heart rate
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety or nervousness
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Sweating more than usual
  • Trembling hands
  • Feeling hot all the time
  • Muscle weakness
  • Diarrhea
  • Frequent bowel movements
  • Lighter and fewer menstrual periods
  • Changes in the appearance of your eyes, such as redness or bulging
  • Osteoporosis

Diabetes symptoms include:

  • Increased thirst
  • Increased appetite
  • Increased urination, especially at night
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Blurred vision
  • Low energy, or extreme tiredness
  • Dry skin
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet
  • Slow-healing wounds
  • Frequent infections
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain

Anyone of any age can develop diabetes or a thyroid disorder at any point in their life. Early diagnosis and treatment of one or both of these conditions can help you start feeling better right away. Early treatment can also reduce your risk for complications such as coma, stroke, and heart failure. Your doctor can talk to you about all your available treatment options if you are diagnosed with diabetes or thyroid disease.

Healthcare Services At Lompoc Valley Medical Center

Lompoc Valley Medical Center offers a wide range of healthcare services, including treatments for thyroid disorders and diabetes. We can help you manage one or both conditions and work with you to improve your quality of life. Contact us today at (805) 737-3300 to request an appointment and learn more about our many healthcare services.