By Rami Heart, DO, FACC
Premier Heart and Vascular Center, North Lakeland
It’s interesting how a significant number of our body parts can affect our cardiovascular functions. Oftentimes, these organs are not the ones that would automatically come to mind.
In this article, we’ll explore the effect of the thyroid gland on your heart. We’ll look at how both function and dysfunction can affect your cardiovascular health and longevity.
How the Thyroid Gland Affects Your Heart
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of the throat. It releases hormones that have an effect on every organ in your body, including your heart. Thyroid hormones affect your blood pressure and heart rate. Too much and too little of these hormones can have an adverse effect on your heart and can lead to heart disease. Your thyroid gland also affects your cholesterol level. In essence, if you have a slightly or significantly malfunctioning thyroid gland, you can expect to have cardiovascular problems as well.
The current estimates are that 6 percent of people in the U.S. have thyroid disease or a malfunctioning thyroid gland. Thyroid disease means that you have either an overactive or an underactive thyroid gland. In 80 percent of cases, people with thyroid disease have an underactive thyroid gland, which is also known as hypothyroidism.
Common Symptoms of Hypothyroidism
When you have hypothyroidism, your thyroid levels drop, which affects many parts of the body and causes a wide range of symptoms.
The most common ones are:
- Low tolerance to cold
- Dry skin
- Weight gain
- Muscle weakness
There are several more symptoms, as well. The problem with these symptoms is that they tend to occur in many people as they grow older. So, even if you have a well-functioning thyroid gland, you can still have most of these symptoms. What’s more, some people above the age of 60 tend to have hypothyroidism and not show any of these symptoms. All of that makes hypothyroidism hard to diagnose.
How Hypothyroidism Affects the Heart
Even though it’s often hard to diagnose, it’s vital to check for hypothyroidism because the condition affects the heart and the circulatory system in many ways:
- Your heart rate can become significantly slower.
- The arteries become less elastic, which elevates your blood pressure.
- Your cholesterol level can rise, which contributes further to the narrowing of arteries.
How Hyperthyroidism Affects the Heart
The opposite of hypothyroidism is hyperthyroidism. Even though it’s much rarer in people with thyroid disease, it’s still important to mention how it affects the heart.
- Your heart rate can be elevated.
- You may experience abnormal heart rhythms (atrial fibrillation, for example).
- Your blood pressure may increase.
Sometimes, hyperthyroidism can lead to chest pain or angina.
As you can see, your thyroid gland can have a major effect on one of the most vital organs in your body. That’s why conditions like hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism need to be diagnosed as soon as possible.