15 August 2017The Link between Diabetes and Thyroid Disease

Do you or anyone you care for have diabetes? If so, you should know about the connection between diabetes and thyroid disease. Diabetes and thyroid disease are the two most common conditions that affect the endocrine system. The endocrine system is a group of eight major glands throughout the body that help regulate growth, reproduction and the use of nutrients by our body cells. These glands release hormones, such as insulin, the hormone that transports glucose (sugar) from the blood into the body cells for energy. Another gland is the thyroid, a small, butterfly-shaped gland in the neck that regulates how the body uses energy.

Statistics on Diabetes and Thyroid Disease:

  • An estimated 30.3 million people in the US have diabetes.
  • An estimated 20 million people in the US have some form of thyroid disease, most commonly found in women.
  • According to the American Thyroid Association (ATA), over half of people affected by thyroid disease are unaware of their thyroid condition.
  • It is not uncommon for a person to be affected by both diabetes and thyroid disease. Researchers in one study reported that 11% of patients with diabetes had thyroid disease.

Thyroid function can have a major impact on diabetes management. Thyroid disease can increase insulin resistance, affect weight management, and increase heart disease risk. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) advises that people with type 2 diabetes should be screened for thyroid disease at diagnosis of diabetes and every five years after that. The ADA also recommends that people with type 1 diabetes get screened annually.

The most common thyroid condition is hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid). The National Institutes of Health estimate that 5 out of 100 people, ages 12 and older, has hypothyroidism. One of the risk factors for hypothyroidism is having diabetes. Common symptoms of hypothyroidism include fatigue, weight gain, trouble tolerating cold and constipation. Since symptoms can vary from person to person and can develop slowly over time, it is difficult to diagnose just by symptoms alone. The good news is that an accurate measurement of thyroid function is possible with blood tests. Hypothyroidism is treated by taking a medicine that replaces the hormone the body no longer adequately makes. Hypothyroidism cannot be cured, so it is critical that you do not stop taking the medicine unless directed by your doctor.

Humans need iodine for normal thyroid function because it is a mineral the body cells use to convert food into energy. In the U.S., iodine deficiency is extremely rare. Iodized salt, seafood, kelp, dairy products and plants grown in iodine-rich soil provide adequate iodine. Please do not be tempted by advertisements recommending treatment of hypothyroidism with high-iodine foods, supplements or any other alternative supplement. This is risky because the treatments are unfounded and not effective.

Grave's disease, an autoimmune condition, is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid). Grave's disease is 7-8 times more common in women than men. Type 1 diabetes is also an autoimmune disease, and people with type 1 diabetes are at risk of Grave's disease. Common symptoms of hyperthyroidism include a racing heart, trouble sleeping, weight loss and hand tremors, all of which can be symptoms of low glucose levels in diabetes. A person with diabetes may naturally think a drop in blood glucose is causing the symptoms. This is why the ADA advises people with type 1 diabetes to get tested for thyroid function once a year. Grave's disease is diagnosed with blood tests. Medications, and possibly other medical treatment, is necessary to help control an overactive thyroid. It is essential to remain on the medication treatment long term.

To learn more about diabetes and thyroid disease, click on the following links:
American Thyroid Association
American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists - Empower
Grave's Disease and Thyroid Foundation

Brenda Braslow, MS, RD, CDE
Registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator in Indialantic, Florida
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Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.



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