Increased Risk for Thyroid Disorders in Diabetics

A greater risk for thyroid disease with diabetes

woman checking her blood sugar

If you have diabetes, either type 1 or type 2, it’s especially important to watch for problems with your thyroid, that butterfly-shaped gland in your neck that regulates your metabolism. This is because people with diabetes are more prone to thyroid disease than the general population – and their blood glucose control can be affected.

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If you have type 1 diabetes

The risk: If you have an autoimmune disorder like type 1 diabetes, you are 33 percent more likely to develop another autoimmune disease, such as a thyroid disorder.

What to do: Because of the high risk for thyroid disease, the American Diabetes Association recommends that you be tested for an underactive thyroid immediately when diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Testing should be repeated every year or two if your initial test is normal.

If you have type 2 diabetes

The risk: For those with type 2 diabetes, you could be one of the 12 percent who has thyroid disease. It is more common for you to develop hypothyroid disease later in life, because it is more common in older adults.

What to do: While there is no set recommendation for thyroid testing, it is very important that you be aware of the signs and symptoms of the disease.

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Thyroid disorders: ‘hyper’ versus ‘hypo’

Treatments for thyroid disorders depend on whether thyroid levels are too low or too high – though it’s more common for thyroid levels to be too low. While risk for these issues is heightened if you have diabetes, the treatments are not any different than they are for anyone with a thyroid condition.

Hypothyroidism: When thyroid levels are low, or if you have “hypothyroidism,” you may experience these symptoms: fatigue; frequent, heavy menstrual periods, forgetfulness, weight gain, dry, coarse skin and hair, hoarse voice and intolerance to cold.

Hypothyroidism is often treated with a drug called levothyroxine (Synthroid®). This is a synthetic hormone tablet that replaces missing thyroid hormone in the body. With careful monitoring, your doctor will adjust your dosage accordingly, and you’ll soon be able to return to your normal lifestyle.

Hyperthyroidism: Hyperthyroidism occurs when thyroid levels are too high. The symptoms include: irritability/nervousness, muscle weakness/tremors, infrequent, scant menstrual periods, weight loss, sleep disturbances, enlarged thyroid gland, vision problems or eye irritation, and heat sensitivity.

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Hyperthyroidism requires the normalization of thyroid hormone production. Treatment could involve drug therapy to block hormone production, radioactive iodine treatment that disables the thyroid, or even thyroid surgery to remove part or the entire gland.

If you test positive for thyroid disorders

If you have diabetes and test positive for thyroid disease, here are tips to feeling your best:

  • Get enough sleep. Giving your body extra rest will help you cope better with the symptoms.
  • Exercise. Getting exercise helps release feel-good hormones and helps replenish energy that may feel zapped by thyroid conditions.
  • Watch your diet. Stick to your diabetes-friendly diet and keep your blood glucose levels in the right range for you to help you feel on-track.
  • Take all of your medications as directed. It’s important to control these conditions with medications as your doctor prescribes to keep symptoms in check.
  • Get tested regularly. It’s important to continually check for changes in hormone levels.

As with diabetes, thyroid diseases are life-long conditions. The good news is that with careful management of your thyroid and your blood glucose levels, you can live a comfortable and active life.

By:  Sue Cotey and Andrea Harris, RNs

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