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Can STDs Trigger Hypothyroidism?

Learn more about the relationship between sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and thyroid dysfunction.
Can STDs Trigger Hypothyroidism?
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Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) represent a diverse range of infections that are transmitted through various forms of sexual contact, including vaginal, anal, and/or oral intercourse. Among the most prevalent STDs are chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, human papillomavirus (HPV), herpes simplex virus (HSV), and HIV/AIDS. These infections can seriously affect your health and well-being, especially when left untreated. Untreated cases of STDs can go far beyond genital symptoms, potentially resulting in serious health issues such as infertility, organ damage, and an increased risk of certain cancers. STD infections can affect various parts of the body, including the thyroid gland. In this article, learn more about the emerging research that suggests potential links between STDs and thyroid dysfunction.

The link between STDs and hypothyroidism

Traditionally, STDs and hypothyroidism have been viewed as two separate health concerns. However, there appears to be a complex connection between both STDs and thyroid dysfunction. Specifically, the signs and symptoms of both conditions can overlap, making diagnosis of one or the other challenging and easy to miss. Inflammation is often a concern in cases of both STDs and thyroid disease.

STIs (sexually transmitted infections) can induce inflammatory responses and weaken the immune response. STDs create a systemic effect on the body, meaning it alters various systems of the body. This includes alterations in hormonal balance, which can indirectly impact thyroid function. Infections like HIV or syphilis may disturb the delicate balance of hormones that are crucial for thyroid regulation, potentially causing hypothyroidism.

It is possible that an infection could exacerbate an existing or dormant autoimmune disease. Infections trigger inflammatory processes within the body, provoking an aggressive immune response. The heightened immune activity may worsen symptoms for individuals with pre-existing or latent autoimmune conditions.

HIV and thyroid dysfunction

HIV infection has been correlated with various thyroid diseases and dysfunctions. Thyroid diseases and conditions are more common among people living with HIV than in the general population. Suppurative thyroiditis, although rare, is more common in people living with HIV and can lead to hypothyroidism or thyrotoxicosis in some cases. The management of thyroiditis in this population includes appropriate antibiotics and, for suppurative forms, drainage of any abscesses.

HAART treatment for HIV and thyroid function

Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (HAART) used to treat HIV infection can also influence thyroid function. A study found that hypothyroidism was most commonly associated with HAART using protease inhibitors (PI). The study suggested that HAART could affect thyroid function, leading to abnormalities. This highlights the need for monitoring thyroid function in HIV-infected patients, particularly those on HAART.

Herpes viruses and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis

Herpes viruses have been implicated in various autoimmune diseases, including Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, the most common cause of hypothyroidism. A study reported the case of three patients who developed herpes labialis (caused by Herpes simplex virus) a few months before the onset of Hashitoxicosis. This transient hyperthyroid phase can occur in Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Blood tests and clinical exams supported the possible role of human herpes viruses as a cause of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. This study suggests that Herpes viruses are a potential viral trigger for autoimmune thyroid diseases, although the exact mechanisms remain to be thoroughly studied.

Syphilis and thyroid swelling

Syphilis, caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum, is a notable STD that can affect the thyroid gland. One case report highlighted an unusual instance of thyroid swelling in a patient with secondary syphilis. The patient, who was HIV-negative, presented with acute midline neck swelling, and difficulty breathing, talking, and swallowing. Blood tests for syphilis were positive, and a thyroid fine needle aspiration biopsy confirmed the presence of Treponema pallidum. Treatment with intravenous benzyl-penicillin led to a good regression of symptoms. This case underscores the importance of considering syphilis in the differential diagnosis of thyroid swelling, especially in populations at risk for STDs.

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is a viral infection that affects the liver and is caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). Hepatitis C is primarily spread through contact with infected blood, such as through sharing needles or receiving a blood transfusion before blood screening was implemented. A small percentage of cases are transmitted through sexual activity, especially if there is a presence of open sores, cuts, or blood during sex.

Hepatitis C can cause both acute and chronic liver disease, with symptoms ranging from mild to severe. Chronic hepatitis C can lead to serious complications such as liver cirrhosis, liver cancer, and liver failure. Treatment for hepatitis C has improved in recent years with the development of direct-acting antiviral medications, which can cure most cases of the infection.

Research has shown a link between hepatitis C and hypothyroidism. Studies indicate that patients with hepatitis C are more susceptible to autoimmune thyroid disease compared to those with hepatitis B. Additionally, individuals with hepatitis C have an increased risk of primary hypothyroidism. The researchers suggested that the immune response to HCV infection may play a role in the development of hypothyroidism.

Regular thyroid screening is recommended for people with hepatitis C to monitor and manage thyroid disorders effectively.

Prevention strategies

Prevention strategies are so essential to reduce the risks that come with STDs, especially to thyroid health and overall well-being. The cornerstone of STD prevention is “safe sex,” which refers to sexual activity in which precautions are taken to minimize the risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unintended pregnancies. These strategies can include the use of condoms and open communication with sexual partners about sexual health. Regular testing and screening for STDs also play a crucial role in early detection and prompt treatment, which can help avoid any potential complications down the line. Healthcare providers often recommend routine screenings for sexually active individuals, particularly those with multiple partners or engaging in high-risk behaviors.

In addition to the physical toll, STDs can also have significant psychological and social implications for affected individuals. Stigma, shame, and fear of judgment prevent some people from seeking timely testing and treatment, which could increase the likelihood of spreading infections and increase the risk of long-term complications. Education and awareness initiatives play a crucial role in empowering individuals to make informed decisions about their sexual health. Comprehensive sex education programs can provide individuals with knowledge about STD transmission, prevention methods, and the importance of seeking medical care if symptoms arise. By promoting open dialogue and reducing stigma surrounding STDs, these efforts can create a supportive environment for individuals to access testing, treatment, and support services.

Expanding access to healthcare services, including STD testing and treatment, is essential for addressing disparities in healthcare access and outcomes. This includes creating and making sure that there is access to affordable and culturally competent care for marginalized communities, who may face barriers such as lack of insurance coverage, transportation issues, or stigma. By prioritizing prevention strategies and addressing the root causes of STD transmission, individuals can take proactive steps to protect themselves and others from the adverse effects of these infections on thyroid function and overall health.

Symptoms and treatment approaches

Symptoms of sexually transmitted diseases vary widely depending on the specific infection, but common ones include unusual discharge, painful urination, genital itching, rash, and pelvic pain. However, many STDs may not present with noticeable symptoms, leading to delayed diagnosis and increased risk of complications. Early detection and prompt treatment are crucial for managing STDs effectively and preventing transmission to sexual partners.

Conventional treatment options for STDs typically involve antimicrobial medications such as antibiotics or antivirals, depending on the causative agent. For bacterial infections like chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis, antibiotics are the cornerstone for treatment, aimed at eradicating the pathogen and alleviating symptoms. Antiviral medications are utilized for managing viral STDs – such as genital herpes, HIV/AIDS, and HPV – to control symptoms and reduce transmission risk.

However, challenges may arise in cases of STD-induced hypothyroidism, mainly when the thyroid dysfunction is secondary to autoimmune processes triggered by the infection. Standard treatments for hypothyroidism, such as thyroid hormone replacement therapy, may not fully address the underlying autoimmune component, necessitating additional interventions to modulate the immune response and restore normal thyroid function.

The presence of comorbidities or complications associated with STDs, such as pelvic inflammatory disease or infertility, can further complicate treatment approaches, requiring a multidisciplinary approach involving gynecologists, endocrinologists, and infectious disease specialists.

A note from Paloma

Preventive measures such as practicing safe sex, undergoing regular testing, and seeking prompt treatment for any suspected infections are crucial not only for preventing the spread of STDs but also for preserving thyroid health and reducing the risk of developing hypothyroidism or other thyroid-related complications. Recognizing the potential link between STDs and thyroid dysfunction is essential for doctors so they can provide comprehensive care and address both the infection and thyroid-related complications simultaneously.

It is important to note that not everyone who contracts an STD will develop hypothyroidism. However, if you have an STD and are experiencing symptoms such as fatigue, weight gain, and cold intolerance, it is important to talk to your healthcare provider. They can perform tests to determine if your thyroid gland is functioning properly and recommend appropriate treatment if necessary.

It’s also important for patients to proactively request regular thyroid screening for potential thyroid dysfunction.  The Paloma Health home test kit for thyroid disease screening offers a convenient way to accomplish this, measuring not only Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) but also Free Triiodothyronine (free T3), Free Thyroxine (free T4), and Thyroid Peroxidase (TPO) antibodies. This kit lets you easily test from home, providing results in days.

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Nazary K, Anwar S, Choudhary AY, Malla D, Hafizyar F, Talpur AS, Fatima F, Khan M. Prevalence of Thyroid Dysfunction in Patients With Hepatitis C. Cureus. 2021 Sep 26;13(9):e18289. doi: 10.7759/cureus.18289. PMID: 34722065; PMCID: PMC8547600.

CDC. CDC - STD Diseases & Related Conditions. Published December 8, 2021.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prevention - STD Information from CDC. Published February 22, 2023.

Mayo Clinic. Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) - Diagnosis and treatment - Mayo Clinic. Published 2019.

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Neeyaz Zolfaghari

Holistic Nutritionist and Nourishment Coach

Neeyaz Zolfaghari is the founder of Unspoken Nutrition, a nutrition and lifestyle brand dedicated to helping others find and create harmony with their daily habits to support their wellbeing and ‘health’. Her journey began over a decade ago, when she was diagnosed with two autoimmune diseases. Knowing what she learned from her upbringing, Neeyaz turned to nutrition as the first pillar of her healing. As her body began to heal on a physical level, she began to learn how our minds, bodies and souls are all innately connected.  

Now as an Integrative Nutritionist and Patient Advocate, Neeyaz offers the people she works with the support, guidance, and tools they need in order to live a fulfilled life. While Neeyaz initially endeavored to make a difference at the individual level, her vision grew to embrace broader community impacts. She is currently pursuing her Masters in Public Health, serving as a testament to her unwavering commitment to instigate change on a grander scale.

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