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Diabetes-Thyroid Alert: Is There a Connection?

Diabetes and Thyroid Disease

Undiagnosed disorders can cause one to experience severe health problems and debilitating symptoms. Two stealthy conditions that can cause serious damage if not properly looked for are diabetes and thyroid dysfunction. However, being difficult to diagnose is not the only thing these two conditions have in common.

There are various mutually impactful effects that thyroid malfunction and diabetes share between each other. Because of this, it is not surprising that many studies have found that prevalence of thyroid conditions among diabetics is notably higher than that of the general populace. Different study populations have shown percentages ranging from roughly 5% to about 30% with an overall prevalence of 13.4%. This is a significant rate of thyroid dysfunction among diabetics that should not be taken lightly. Furthermore, because both thyroid conditions and diabetes interact with the endocrine system, mutual damage can occur that promotes both conditions. Understanding the influence of each condition on the other is an important means of acquiring quality treatment.

Diabetes Breakdown

There are two primary forms of diabetes, type 1 and type 2. Thyroid conditions are more commonly associated with type 1 diabetes. However, it is important to recognize that those with type 2 are still at increased risk of developing a thyroid condition when compared to the general population.

Type 1 diabetes is classified as an autoimmune condition. Diseases in this category cause the body to turn on itself and attack its own systems. In the case of diabetes, the immune system attacks the pancreas, which severely reduces production of insulin. When this is further exaggerated by a thyroid condition, which can also inhibit insulin production by slowing one’s metabolism, proper blood glucose balance becomes near impossible to achieve.

Type 2 diabetes occurs when one’s blood glucose levels remain at a heightened state. This can easily occur if one’s insulin production and receptivity is reduced. Those suffering from hypothyroidism while also having type 1 diabetes are at a significantly greater risk of their condition developing into type 2. Inadequate diagnosis of thyroid conditions connected to diabetes may be part of the reason why, according to the American Diabetes Association, 29.1 million Americans were diagnosed with diabetes in 2012. Poor thyroid testing must be resolved to effectively treat diabetic cases where a thyroid condition is present. If left unchecked, a thyroid disorder can easily increase diabetic difficulties.

The Thyroid’s Impact on Diabetes

One’s thyroid influences glucose levels in numerous ways. Depending on the severity and systems most impacted, a thyroid condition can negatively affect glucose regulation and worsen diabetic states.

Hyperthyroidism is a case of an overactive thyroid, which can negatively impact glucose management. Of specific importance to diabetics, hyperthyroidism promotes hyperglycemia, also known as high blood sugar. Excess thyroid hormone in one’s system promotes glucose absorption in the gut, which can lead to increased blood sugar levels. It is widely recognized that those with hyperthyroidism, especially those who are also diabetic, have reduced glycemic control.

Hypothyroidism, an underactive thyroid, can also negatively impact glucose metabolization. Insulin is a necessary element for proper conversion of blood glucose into energy. Because the thyroid is closely tied to numerous bodily systems, any slowing of the thyroid can lead to reduced efficiency in important regions such as the pancreas. The pancreas is vital for proper insulin function and when it slows down insulin levels are reduced. This makes it increasingly difficult to maintain healthy blood sugar.

Studies have found that even subclinical hypothyroidism, a thyroid condition that shows few to no symptoms, can induce insulin resistant states. This means that diabetics effected by such conditions may have severe insulin resistance without being aware of it. Furthermore, the presence of subclinical hypothyroidism increases the risk of nephropathy, also known as kidney disease or damage, in type 2 diabetics. It is theorized that this is due to lessened cardiac function and greater blood vessel resistance caused by reduced thyroid function. By resolving thyroid disorders that may be present, one can increase their body’s ability to combat diabetes.

Thyroid Testing

We can clearly see the significant impact the thyroid has on diabetes. For this reason, it is critical that one gets proper testing to uncover any hidden thyroid condition they may have. Unfortunately, even though those with type 1 and 2 diabetes are at greater risk of a thyroid disorder, the rate of testing is generally not increased. The most common method used for evaluating one’s thyroid health is a TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) test. However, this is insufficient as “normal” TSH ranges are broad and do not account for individual optimization. This may be why, according to the Thyroid Federation International, an estimated 150 million people worldwide are unaware of their thyroid condition.

Getting appropriate testing for a thyroid condition may alert one to a disorder that is severely inhibiting their ability to combat diabetes. Proper thyroid screening requires testing of more than just TSH. To achieve a more complete profile of one’s thyroid health a test should at the very least include Free T4, Free T3, and Reverse T3. These are all critical elements in proper thyroid function and knowing the levels of each can further improve diagnosis. Inadequate testing may cause one to unknowingly suffer from a thyroid disorder that further intensifies their diabetic condition. Being aware of the need for proper testing is the first step in getting appropriate treatment.

Staying Alert

The intent of this Diabetes-Thyroid Alert has been to promote public awareness of the shared impact that thyroid dysfunction and diabetes have on each other. Hopefully this has given you cause to evaluate your own risk of diabetes and thyroid dysfunction. Through promoting proper treatment and raising awareness we can help bring about effective treatment and greater quality of life for those effected by these mutually malicious conditions.