Hypothyroidism & Heart Disease

The butterfly-shaped gland found in the neck known as the thyroid gland quietly does its job producing hormones each and every day.  The thyroid gland is just one of many glands throughout the body releasing these special chemical messengers regulating important functions from hunger to reproduction. 

There are two kinds of hormones the thyroid gland makes – thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3).  These thyroid hormones regulate how the body uses and stores energy helping vital organs such as the brain and heart to work normally influencing breathing, body temperature, and body weight.

What is hypothyroidism?

Hypothyroidism is when the thyroid gland puts out too little hormone or is considered to be an underactive thyroid.  There are certain symptoms associated with having hypothyroidism which include:

·         Feeling tired or sluggish

·         A slow heart rate

·         Weight gain

·         Dry skin and hair

·         Constipation

·         Irregular menstrual periods in women

How is it diagnosed and treated?

Hypothyroidism is diagnosed by a doctor during a physical exam and noting any symptoms a person has.  Blood tests will be conducted to determine hormone levels before any treatment requirements are made.

Once it has been determined that a person has hypothyroidism, the goal of treatment is to reach normal levels of thyroid hormone at all times.  Individuals can do this by taking medication, usually levothyroxine or synthroid which is a synthetic form of T4.  The pill is taken daily and it is exactly the same as the T4 made by the body working the same way as if the thyroid hormone had made it itself.

Hypothyroidism and heart disease

The connection between hypothyroidism and heart disease has to do with the fact that both thyroid hormones of T4 and T3 affect heart rate and the amount of blood pumped by the heart.  These hormones are responsible for keeping blood flow running smoothly by relaxing the muscles of the blood vessels allowing the blood vessels to remain open.

When a person has hyperthyroidism, it may cause changes in blood fats and blood vessel function that can lead to an increased risk of narrowing of the arteries.  What this does is it can increase the levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol, total cholesterol, triglycerides, and other fats related to heart disease increasing the risk of it.

There are rare but possible serious heart problems that could occur with hypothyroidism:

·         Heart attack

·         Heart failure or congestive heart failure

·         Stroke

·         Peripheral artery disease

·         Sudden cardiac arrest

·         Irregular heartbeat

There are other heart related problems that are more likely possibilities that can develop because of hypothyroidism which include:

·         High blood pressure

·         A low heart rate – less than 60 beats a minute

·         Increased stiffness of walls of the blood vessels

·         Increased strain on the heart

·         Enlargement of the heart

Preventing heart-related problems with hypothyroidism

Anyone experiencing any symptoms of hypothyroidism needs to see their doctor as soon as possible to be tested and diagnosed to begin taking thyroid hormone medication each day.  Once a person is controlling the thyroid by taking medication, this can help prevent heart-related problems. 

Each year a person with hypothyroidism should get a checkup with their doctor to review their dose of thyroid hormone making sure it is at the correct dosage keeping thyroid hormones within a normal range. 

In the meantime, anyone with hypothyroidism should eat a healthy diet for heart disease and get in regular physical activity to maintain a healthy body weight.