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If you research thyroid problems, you may be concerned to find out that there is a connection between the thyroid and heart health. The good news? Treating thyroid dysfunction often reduces heart problems.
The thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland in the front of the neck. As part of the endocrine system, the thyroid gland regulates your body's metabolic rate. When the thyroid doesn't function properly, it affects many functions of your health, including your heart.
When the thyroid produces too much thyroid hormone, it is called hyperthyroidism. More commonly, when the thyroid produces too little thyroid hormone, it is called hypothyroidism. When thyroid hormone levels are imbalanced either way, it can affect cardiovascular functions.
How hypothyroidism affects the heart
When your thyroid hormone production drops, your body processes slow down and change. A slow down of thyroid hormone production may cause your heart to beat slower, become weakened, or fail to relax after each heartbeat.
Hypothyroidism can lead to some heart problems, including:
· Slowed heart rate, which may cause atrial fibrillation, a type of irregular heartbeat.
· Increase in cholesterol which may worsen coronary artery disease
· Weak muscles which may cause dyspnea, or shortness of breath after exercise
· Stiffened arteries which may cause high blood pressure
· Heart failure in people with mild underlying heart disease
How hyperthyroidism affects the heart
Hyperthyroidism occurs when your thyroid is overactive. Less common than hypothyroidism, it can still cause heart problems. It can accelerate your body's metabolism, causing weight loss, a rapid heart rate, or unusual heart rhythm. Hyperthyroidism can also cause high blood pressure, leading to heart problems.
Not only can hyperthyroidism increase the heart rhythm, but it also can increase the risk of stroke. It increases the chance of developing fatty plaques in the arteries or developing blood clots, which increases the risk of thrombotic events.
Atrial fibrillation (commonly known as AFib or AF) is a quivering or irregular heartbeat leading to stroke or heart failure. It can be caused by hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism and is the most common heart risk associated with thyroid disorders. This is reason in and of itself you should get your thyroid levels tested if you suspect you have a condition affecting your thyroid.
If you're worried about your cardiovascular symptoms, consider taking a thyroid function test to understand your thyroid status. Many labs only look at thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). Still, it's critical to also measure free triiodothyronine (fT3), free thyroxine (fT4), and TPO antibodies. These four markers help you understand the big picture of what's happening with your thyroid function and where specifically to make improvements.
The good news is that hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can both be managed, and it starts with a conversation with your healthcare provider.
Treating an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) typically requires thyroid hormone replacement medication. Remember, there is no one-size-fits-all treatment when choosing thyroid medication with your doctor.
Treating an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) and associated heart risk is more complex than treating hypothyroidism. While some medications are available to slow the excess thyroid hormone's action, treatment often involves removing or destroying the hyperactive part of the thyroid. Patients who undergo this procedure may need to take thyroid replacement hormone for the rest of their lives.
While not all heart conditions can be treated by addressing thyroid disease, thyroid problems are the most treatable cause of heart conditions. If you don't have any other contributing factors like a family history of cardiovascular disease or high cholesterol, understanding and treating your thyroid could make a world of difference in treating your heart problem.
You can take precautions to keep your heart healthy and improve your chances of avoiding heart disease.
Know your blood pressure and cholesterol levels
At least once a year, we recommend getting a regular checkup with your doctor. In addition, you can use a home blood pressure device or a blood pressure machine in a pharmacy, and a pharmacist can also check your blood pressure.
Eat a heart-healthy diet
A heart-healthy diet is more about behaviors than one type of food or nutrient. We recommend eating a diet low in saturated and trans fats, salt, and added sugars. Instead, focus on a diet rich in whole grains, fiber, antioxidants, and unsaturated fats.
Smoking tobacco products is one of the top controllable risk factors for heart disease. Quitting smoking can make a massive difference to not just your heart but your overall health, too.
Do heart-healthy workouts
To support cardiovascular function, try aerobic exercise to help improve circulation, lower blood pressure, and help control blood glucose. For those with thyroid disease, resistance training may be a better option. Resistance training can help control cholesterol, reduce fat, and create leaner muscle mass. Find an activity you like to do so you're more encouraged to stay consistent.
Don't skip medications
If you take cholesterol, diabetes, or blood pressure medications, take them as directed by your healthcare provider. If you have unpleasant side effects, don't stop taking your medicine until you've spoken with your provider.
A note from Paloma Health
Suppose you still experience heart-related symptoms even after treating your thyroid dysfunction. In that case, you'll need to see your doctor to determine if thyroid disease is the culprit or if something else is at play.