Thyroid disease and diabetes often go hand in hand, and it’s something you should keep an eye on since thyroid disease can significantly impact your diabetes and your overall wellbeing.
According to the American Thyroid Association (ATA), more than 12 percent of the U.S. population will develop a thyroid condition during their lifetime. Although it’s a common disease and easy to test for, the symptoms and test results can be easily overlooked or mistaken for other conditions. This can make an accurate diagnosis challenging.
Since many people living with diabetes have thyroid issues, this article will explore the connection between thyroid and diabetes: what is thyroid disease, what are the symptoms, how to have your thyroid tested, how will it impact your diabetes, and how thyroid disease is treated.
This post is sponsored by LetsGetChecked.com. LetsGetChecked.com offers home testing kits for thyroid issues and many other health problems. You can use the discount code DIABETES to get 15% off all their tests.
Table of Contents
Your thyroid and what it does
Your thyroid is a hormone-producing gland that regulates the body’s metabolism. It’s located in the lower front of your neck.
Your thyroid plays a critical role in regulating a tremendous number of things in your body, including your weight, energy, blood pressure, heart rate, mood, menstrual cycles, sex-drive, and even your memory.
Types of thyroid disorders
When the thyroid’s hormone production is impaired, you develop thyroid disease. The thyroid can either produce too much thyroid hormone (which is called hyperthyroidism) or too little (which is called hypothyroidism).
Causes of hyperthyroidism include Graves’ disease, thyroid nodules, and thyroiditis — inflammation of the thyroid. Hyperthyroidism is quite rare and only 0.5 percent of people living with type 1 diabetes will have hyperthyroidism.
Hypothyroidism is more common — both in the general population and in the diabetes population (SOURCE). Its most common cause is called Hashimoto’s disease.
It’s not clear why, but women are three to four times more likely to develop thyroid issues than men.
Symptoms of hypo- and hyperthyroidism
Since it’s the thyroid’s job to secrete the hormone that regulates the way the body uses energy, and thereby regulates the function of every organ, an over or under production will have significant consequences.
The symptoms experienced can vary from person to person. You may experience some or all of the following symptoms:
- Unexplained weight gain
- Chronic fatigue
- Low blood pressure and slower pulse rate
- Increased sensitivity to cold
- Tingling skin
- Irregular periods
- Low libido
- Short term memory loss
- Muscle cramping
- Hair loss and thinning
- Dry and rough skin
- Unexplained weight loss
- Chronic fatigue
- High blood pressure and increased pulse rate
- Heat intolerance
- Itchy skin and hives
- Lighter periods
- Low libido
- Difficulty with concentration
- Muscle weakness
- Hair loss and thinning
- Smooth, warm or moist skin
How are diabetes and thyroid disease connected?
The prevalence of thyroid disease among people with type 2 diabetes is higher than in the general population, and 17 to 30 percent of people with type 1 have thyroid disease.
That’s a pretty stark contrast to the general U.S. population where only 12 percent will develop a thyroid condition.
In other words, people living with diabetes are nearly twice as likely to develop thyroid disease compared to the general population.
However, that does not mean that diabetes causes thyroid disease, or vice-versa.
Are type 2 diabetes and thyroid disease connected?
As far as we know, there is no direct link between 2 diabetes and thyroid disease. The reason why many live with both thyroid disease and type 2 diabetes is that they are the most common endocrine diseases in the United States, according to R. Mack Harrell, MD, medical imaging director at the Memorial Center for Integrative Endocrine Surgery and past president of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists.
However, because factors like weight gain can contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes, there may be “indirect” links between thyroid disease and type 2 diabetes. If you gain weight due to hypothyroidism, that may put you at risk for type 2 diabetes.
Some studies have shown that people with pre-diabetes are 40 percent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes if they have untreated hypothyroidism.
Are type 1 diabetes and thyroid disease connected?
Much like type 1 diabetes, most types of thyroid disease are autoimmune disorders. Unfortunately, if you have one autoimmune disease, research shows that you’re more likely to develop another or several.
In type 1 diabetes, the immune system attacks the cells in the pancreas that make insulin. In some types of thyroid disease, the immune system attacks the cells of the thyroid.
Why people develop autoimmune diseases is not well understood, but there are many theories.
In an interview, Dr. Lowell Schmeltz remarks: “There’s some genetic risk that links these autoimmune conditions, but we don’t know what environmental triggers make them activate.”
While research does not indicate that type 1 diabetes is actually causing thyroid disease, the diabetes diagnosis generally occurs first, with the thyroid condition developing at some point in the years afterwards.
However, as we see more and more people being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes later in life, this could switch.
Can thyroid problems affect blood sugar levels?
Thyroid disease can have a major impact on your diabetes management and can increase a person’s risk of developing diabetic complications.
One of the ways that thyroid disease can sometimes be detected in people living with diabetes is if blood sugars suddenly (and consistently) become very erratic and hard to manage.
When your thyroid’s hormone production isn’t functioning normally, it will have a clear impact on your blood sugar levels. Untreated hypothyroidism can result in frequent unexplained low blood sugars while hyperthyroidism can result in frequent unexplained high blood sugars.
The reason hypothyroidism can make your blood sugars drop unexpectedly is that the insulin isn’t metabolized quickly enough. This means the insulin is lingering in your bloodstream longer, which can increase sensitivity to insulin, and then lead to low blood sugars.
Hyperthyroidism works the other way. Your insulin doses can be metabolized too quickly, causing you to need more insulin, and causing high blood sugars.
When should you get tested for thyroid disease?
Since thyroid disease and diabetes often go hand in hand and can have significant implications for your diabetes management, the American Diabetes Association Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes—2019 recommend frequent screenings for thyroid disease in people living with diabetes.
People living with type 1 diabetes should be tested for autoimmune thyroid disease after diagnosis and have periodic follow-up screenings, even if they show no symptoms of thyroid disease. There are no screening guidelines as such for people living with type 2 diabetes, however, some recommend that women over 50 living with type 2 diabetes should be tested regularly for thyroid disease.
If you display any of the symptoms listed above and live with diabetes, please consider getting tested for thyroid disease, it’s as easy as a simple blood test.
All you need is a thyroid test blood test (biomarkers: TSH, FT3, and FT4) and it might also make sense for people living with type 1 diabetes to get an antibody test.
How to test for thyroid disease
You can get tested for thyroid disease by visiting your doctor and asking for a blood test or by doing a home test.
Home thyroid testing with Let’s Get Checked
I’ve used the Let’s Get Checked home tests to test my thyroid levels (I had no issues despite living with type 1 diabetes) and can testify to how convenient it is.
I ordered the test online at LetsGetChecked.com. When it arrived at my home, I created an online account and activated the test before collecting the blood sample myself (6-10 drops from finger prick only). I then dropped off the return package at UPS.
Once the lab had done the analysis, I received a call from a nurse from Let’s Get Checked who discussed the results with me before the results were released to my online dashboard. Generally, you’ll receive the results after only 2-5 business days. Had the test showed any sort of thyroid issues, the nurse would have discussed treatment options.
You can see the entire home test process in this video:
The major upside to doing the test at home is that I don’t have to drive to see my doctor, hang out in the waiting room, or pay a co-pay to see my doctor and a co-pay to get the test done.
A thyroid test through Let’s Get Checked is $99 and a full thyroid antibody test is $149, so whether that’s worth it for you will depend on how much you pay to see your doctor, how much you pay to get blood work done, and how far you have to go to see your doctor.
Let’s Get Checked use the same labs that our doctors or hospitals would use, so the quality of the tests is similar. All of their tests are FDA approved and they have a team of board-certified physicians who review your medical information and test results.
How to treat thyroid disease
If your test comes back out of range, you’ll need to discuss treatment options with your doctor (If you use Let’s Get Checked, their nurses may suggest taking the results to your doctor for further testing.) The good news is that thyroid disease is fairly straightforward to treat.
If you’re diagnosed with hypothyroidism, you’ll most likely be given a daily pill such as Thyroxine or Synthroid (generic name Levothyroxine) which contains synthetic human thyroid hormone. Your doctor might have to adjust the dose a few times until your thyroid hormone levels are back in range. For most people, it’s a chronic condition so you might need dose adjustment several times over the years.
If you’re experiencing uncomfortable symptoms, that may be a sign that your thyroid medication dosages need an adjustment with help from your medical team.
Treatment of hyperthyroidism is a little more complex and may include medication, radiation therapy, surgery, or a combination of these. In some cases, hyperthyroidism resolves on its own.
To order a thyroid test from Let’s Get Checked, please visit LetsGetChecked.com. You can use the discount code DIABETES to get 15% off any test on the website.