I am often asked about the relationship between thyroid disease and diabetes. The unfortunate truth: Patients with diabetes do have a higher incidence of thyroid disorders.   

The Relationship Between Thyroid Disorders and Diabetes

Just to get some perspective, up to 30 percent of female type 1 patients with diabetes have thyroid disorders of some type. The cause is thought to be related to the fact that thyroid disease and diabetes are both autoimmune disorders. An autoimmune disorder occurs when our bodies create antibodies that mistakenly destroy or injure normal body tissue, such as the pancreas in the case of diabetes or the thyroid. In other words, one autoimmune disorder makes you more prone to getting others.   

Type 1 diabetes has more of an autoimmune component than type 2 diabetes, so it is probably more likely to be associated with thyroid issues. In general, people with type 1 diabetes have a one in three chance of developing a thyroid disorder.

The thyroid is the largest gland in the endocrine system, producing important hormones that regulate energy and metabolism in the body. But the body can overproduce thyroid hormones, leading to hyperthyroidism, or more commonly, not produce enough thyroid hormone, leading to hypothyroidism. It is important that patients with diabetes watch for signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism especially, as it is more commonly seen in this patient population.

Signs of Thyroid Disorders

Signs of hypothyroidism can include fatigue, edema, pallor and weight gain just to name a few. Sometimes symptoms of thyroid disorders overlap with symptoms of poor diabetes control, making it hard for clinicians to tell what is going on with a patient based solely on symptom complaints. This is why blood tests for thyroid disorders are routinely done at yearly physicals in patients with diabetes.

A simple blood test can detect thyroid problems. This test measures levels of a hormone produces by the thyroid gland. Thyroid disease can affect blood glucose control. When blood sugars are out of whack and there seems to be no reasonable explanation, perhaps thyroid disease should be suspected.

Hyperthyroidism is less common but it may be important to know the symptoms. Hyperthyroidism may cause sweating, weight loss, diarrhea, lack of concentration and rapid heart rate.

Hypothyroidism can also cause changes in LDL or bad cholesterol. This can be especially dangerous for patients with diabetes as they have more cardiac risk factors than the general population.

Thyroid disease may sound scary, but once it is properly diagnosed it is relatively easy to treat with prescription medication. In patients with hypothyroidism, thyroid replacement hormones are given which are usually dosed based on how blood levels come back and are also based on a person’s body weight. 

The best advice I can offer is to be proactive with your health care team and understand your own body. If something doesn’t feel right, ask questions.  Being an informed patient with always lead to a healthier way of life.