The World Heart Federation states that heart disease is the leading cause of female mortality. Proper treatment and early prevention of deadly heart conditions not only improves one’s quality of life but may even save their life. Unfortunately, there is an important element related to heart disease that is frequently overlooked: the thyroid.
According to a study titled Cardiovascular Involvement in General Medical Conditions: Thyroid Disease and the Heart, published in Circulation, cardiovascular identifiers associated with thyroid conditions are known to be one of the most prominent signifiers of both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism. Simply put, cardiac symptoms and signifiers may point to an underlying thyroid condition that must be treated to resolve the associated heart problem. Appreciating and understanding the deep connection between one’s thyroid and heart is important for both treatment and reducing the risk of life-threatening disease.
The Thyroid’s Impact on the Heart
Both thyroid disease and heart disease are closely related. This is not all that surprising as the thyroid is highly integrated with nearly every cell in the body. In relation to the heart, thyroid imbalances can lead to erratic and dangerous shifts in blood pressure, heart rhythms, and total heart function. Because the heart muscles require thyroid hormone to properly pump blood to the rest of the body, one may experience a racing or sluggish heart rate. This occurs if one’s thyroid falls out of balance in either direction.
There are various heart-related conditions that are associated with improper thyroid function. Reduced levels and hindered production of thyroid hormones is known as hypothyroidism. The following heart problems are connected to underactive thyroid function and may be resolved through treating the thyroid condition itself rather than the heart.
Irregular heartbeats, flutters as well as missing or additional heartbeats may be caused by hypothyroidism. These symptoms may be a signifier that one has developed bradycardia arrhythmia, a slowed heart rate that leads to tissues and organs not receiving appropriate amounts of oxygen and nutrients. In severe cases of bradycardia, or exceptionally slowed heart rate, one may experience cardiac arrest.
Homocysteine is an amino acid produced by the body when digesting dietary proteins and is part of the methylation process. Unfortunately, excess amounts of this compound have been linked to significantly greater risk of developing not only heart disease, but dementia, and neurodegenerative disease as well. Those with hypothyroidism may have heightened levels of homocysteine in their blood due to poor liver function. Inhibited thyroid levels reduces the efficacy of many systems in the body, including the liver. With decreased functionality, the liver is often not able to regulate and normalize homocysteine levels.
A common symptom of hypothyroidism is high cholesterol and weight gain/obesity. Both factors play a role in the development of calcification or arterial plaque. This alone increases the risk of experiencing a cardiac event such as heart attack or heart failure. Additionally, calcification leads to atherosclerosis, a narrowing and hardening of the arteries that inhibits blood flow. Although high cholesterol and obesity are not exclusive to those with hypothyroidism, many with this condition are unable to resolve them without proper treatment.
Calcification and arterial narrowing are not the only factors involved with proper blood flow. Those with hypothyroidism often experience high blood pressure or hypertension. With reduced levels of thyroid hormone, heart vessels stiffen making it more difficult for the heart to pump blood. This leads to increased blood pressure that may induce other symptoms or conditions. Hypertension is associated with several severe side-effects:
- Thickening and Hardening of the Arteries
- Reduced Cognitive Ability
- Weakening of one’s Blood Cells
- Heart Failure
On the other end of the thyroid spectrum is hyperthyroidism or overactive thyroid. Those with this condition have a thyroid that overproduces thyroxine (T4) which can lead to overactive and excessively active metabolic function. Regarding the heart, those with hyperthyroidism are at greater risk of tachycardia. This dangerously hastened and hard heartbeat is highly associated with hyperthyroidism. As heart rate increases one is at greater risk of heart palpitations, which may also signify the presence of heart disease.
Due to the interrelation of symptoms and associated diseases, it is not uncommon to experience more than one of the above heart conditions related to thyroid function.
Finding the Culprit
If one is experiencing symptoms of heart disease it is critical to find the cause so it can be properly treated. Unfortunately, many medical practitioners are using flawed or inadequate tests when it comes to testing the thyroid. As seen above, thyroid function plays an important role in the heart’s ability to work properly. By overlooking or improperly gauging one’s thyroid health, one may be unintentionally dooming a patient to suffer from a thyroid-related heart condition that would be otherwise treatable.
Find the Connection
Many people worldwide are plagued with thyroid disease and don’t even know it. Tragically, this may cause them to experience serious heart problems while being treated for everything but the true source of the condition. Only by recognizing thyroid conditions through proper testing and appreciating the critical role that they play in heart health can thyroid-related heart disease be regularly diagnosed and appropriately treated.