Heart disease is a major concern for those in the United States. One of the most prevalent risk factors of cardiovascular stress in America is high cholesterol. Estimates suggest that nearly half of those in the U.S. have high cholesterol. Because of this, many have made a greater effort to exercise daily and eat right. Even though these are critical elements in combatting cholesterol and heart disease there is another piece of the puzzle that some may not even know exist.
Hypothyroidism is closely tied to one’s cholesterol levels and may cause it to increase without their knowledge. Living with an untreated and undiagnosed thyroid condition, particularly hypothyroidism, can leave one with high cholesterol levels without knowing why. By educating people on the importance of the thyroid and its impact on cholesterol they become better equipped to seek out proper diagnosis and treatment.
Cholesterol is a naturally occurring substance that is produced in the liver or acquired through eating animal products. This waxy material is an important resource for hormone and nerve cell production. However, too much cholesterol, also known as hypercholesterolemia, can cause this otherwise beneficial product to be deposited in one’s arteries. If this continues, arterial blockage can occur, which significantly increases the risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke. Maintaining a healthy cholesterol level is critical in preventing heart disease and improving one’s quality of life. Unfortunately, many do not appreciate the impact that the thyroid has on cholesterol levels. The two most widely discussed types of cholesterol are LDL and HDL.
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, also known as “bad” cholesterol, is often what those with high cholesterol have difficulty managing. Maintaining LDL levels below 100 mg/dL is optimal. Numbers above 130 mg/dL increases health risks. As levels increase so does the risk of heart disease.
High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol is commonly referred to as “good” cholesterol. It is known as such because it aids in transporting and properly removing arterial blockages caused by LDL. Men with 40 mg/dL or less and women with 50 mg/dL or less are at increased risk of heart disease. However, reaching above 60 mg/dL of HDL is recognized as improving heart function and reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Properly regulating one’s cholesterol is clearly important. Therefore, being aware of the impact of causal factors such as hypothyroidism is beneficial. According to Richard A. Dickey, M.D., a prior president of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, without treating an underlying thyroid condition regulation of cholesterol levels is exceptionally difficult. Furthermore, if one is experiencing high cholesterol levels it is pertinent to speak to a physician regarding thyroid testing. Therefore it is important to understand hypothyroidism’s impact on cholesterol and how to go about identifying it.
What is Hypothyroidism?
There are many conditions involving the thyroid. One such condition is hypothyroidism. An underactive thyroid is incapable of producing the requisite amount of hormones necessary for various bodily functions. One of the most important systems that hypothyroidism impacts is one’s metabolism. With reduced metabolic function comes poor processing of cholesterol. As the thyroid becomes less active, the metabolism slows, which leads one’s cholesterol levels to increase with little likelihood of dropping.
Many are unaware that the thyroid is instrumental in managing cholesterol. This partially contributes to practitioners overlooking and misdiagnosing thyroid conditions. Importantly, the AACE did a survey in 2009 that looked at the link between undiagnosed hypothyroidism and high cholesterol. The survey found that less than half of those who had been diagnosed with high cholesterol did not know or recall if they had been tested for a thyroid condition. This alone is disconcerting as hypothyroidism and high cholesterol have been well-documented as being associated with one another. Furthermore, ninety percent of survey participants were unaware that the thyroid is important for cholesterol regulation. Ignorance of the link between the thyroid and cholesterol levels among patients and physicians alike may be leaving a significant number of people suffering from undiagnosed conditions.
Do I have Hypothyroidism?
With an estimated 30 million people in America having a thyroid condition, half of which are undiagnosed or undertreated, it is important to recognize the symptoms and signs of hypothyroidism.
- Weight gain and/or inability to lose weight
- Dry skin
- Dry and brittle hair
- Sensitivity to cold or inability to get and stay warm
- Pain in muscles and joints
Many hypothyroid symptoms are commonly diagnosed as a different condition. But if you are experiencing some or all of these symptoms, it would be wise to have your thyroid tested. Patient advocate Mary Shomon suggests the following ways to recognize thyroid conditions and pursue proper thyroid testing and treatment.
- The AACE provides instruction for a thyroid neck test on their website. Conducting this test for yourself can help you identify an enlarged thyroid, which signifies the presence of a thyroid condition.
- Compare your symptoms to those on the Hypothyroidism Symptoms Checklist. This process can help you recognize risk factors and symptoms you may be unaware of or have overlooked. Shomon also suggests using your completed checklist as a means of approaching your medical practitioner regarding thyroid testing.
- If you have high cholesterol levels, it may be beneficial to suggest to your doctor you would like your thyroid levels tested.
- If there is a history of thyroid disease in your family it may be worthwhile having your thyroid antibodies tested. In the presence of ongoing autoimmune failure this test is a more reliable gauge of thyroid health and activity.
The Root of the Problem
Because high cholesterol is such a prevalent issue in America it is important to understand the possible causes. Increasing recognition and awareness of the important link between high cholesterol and hypothyroidism may improve treatment and diagnosis. Properly treating underlying conditions is a necessary step in resolving the issue of high cholesterol.