Thyroid issues are more common than we would like them to be, especially knowing all of the additional health issues that come from thyroid dysfunction.
It seems prevention is the key when it comes to most health issues, including thyroid dysfunction. But is there a need to protect some people more than others?
Are some people simply more likely to develop a thyroid dysfunction in their lifetime than others?
Yes, unfortunately, that is the exact case at hand.
Some people are simply living with the risk of developing hypothyroidism or even thyroid cancer.
But who exactly is that? And most importantly – why?
Types of people that have the risk of developing thyroid issues
In the following, we will share some groups of people that have been suggested to be exposed to a much greater risk of thyroid dysfunction as compared with other people.
If you find yourself to be a part of any of these groups, we strongly recommend talking to your primary healthcare giver as soon as possible as to discuss the next steps of the process.
Did you know that women are 5 to 8 times more likely to develop a thyroid issue as compared with men?
In fact, it has been estimated [i]that 1 in 8 women will develop a thyroid issue at least one in her lifetime. Although researchers suspect at the possible reasons behind this increased risk that women face, the mechanisms of action are not entirely recognized.
It has been considered that perhaps it is the higher amount of estrogen that women are normally carrying as compared with men that have the main role in this process. Estrogen is thought to be able to enhance the present inflammatory process of the immune system and with that, to contribute [ii]to the thyroid attack.
Although more research needs to be done, what we do know is enough to alert all women to visit their doctor for a regular check-up.
In the last few years, obesity has been classified as an epidemic in the United States, affecting around 39% of the adult population. It has been considered to be a disease which characterizes with BMI (Body Mass Index) of 30. Obesity has been linked to numerous health risks, including heart disease, heart attack, stroke, diabetes type 1, etc. including thyroid cancer.
Thyroid cancer has been shown to be fastest-growing cancer in the United States, taking more and more victims each year. So far, in 2019, the estimated [iii]a number of deaths due to thyroid cancer is as high as 2,170. And that is in the United States alone. Obesity seems to be an important risk factor in the development of thyroid cancer, especially in women as research suggests[iv].
However, it is not clear why obese individuals have an increased risk of thyroid cancer, and normal-weight individuals do not.
People with a family history of thyroid issues
As usual, people with a family history of a certain health issue are exposed to an increased risk of struggling with the same medical issue themselves. And the answer is hiding in their genetics. The same goes for the many thyroid issues that can happen due to genetics.
Research published in the Clinical Biochemist Reviews talks about the involvement of genes in the development of thyroid issues but points out that genetics alone are accountable for a very small amount of the thyroid issues cases.[v] But when genetics are paired up with some additional risk factors that we are going to talk in a little while, the risk for thyroid issues grows even more, eventually resulting in real existing thyroid issues.
These individuals are advised towards regular screenings and check-ups in order to maintain good health in the future.
People diagnosed with an autoimmune disease
It is not uncommon for some autoimmune diseases to be linked to an increased risk of other health issues, including the ones that affect the thyroid gland. This list would include Grave’s disease and Hashimoto thyroiditis which have been found to be directly linked to the development of hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism – the two most common thyroid issues.
The reason why these autoimmune diseases are the reason for the increased number of thyroid issues cases is hidden within their mechanism of action. The lymphatic infiltration that occurs due to the autoimmune disease causes direct tissue damage to the thyroid gland affecting the function of the gland itself.
An inflammatory reaction happens, which ultimately causes the characteristic clinical manifestations to occur.[vi] Anyone who has been diagnosed for Grave’s disease or Hashimoto thyroiditis needs to be put under clear supervision to detect any early signs of potential thyroid issues.
People older than 60 years
As we grow older, our bodies become more sustainable to the long list of medical issues. From cognitive deficit, prostate issues, hormonal imbalances, to some much more serious such as thyroid issues, the list goes on and on.
People under the age of 60 are considered to be exposed to a greater risk of various thyroid disorders as compared with younger people. The problem with this age group is the fact that a lot of the cases are left undiagnosed and untreated, posing as a major health threat. In addition, when doctors try to diagnose these sort of issues, they often fail, and a misdiagnosis happens because of the potential comorbid conditions that a lot of the elderly people are facing at the same time. Hyperthyroidism, for example, if left untreated, is often linked to an increased rate of cardiac mobility and mortality.[vii]
People of African-American and Asian ethnicity
Race appears to play a role in the development of numerous health issues, including the common autoimmune thyroid issues such as Grave’s disease and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. It has been suggested that African-Americans and Asians are exposed to the greater risk of developing these thyroid issues as compared with Caucasians.
It was a study conducted from the year 1997 to the year of 2011 that has led to such discovery. For the purposes of the study, all active US military personnel ages 20 to 54 were looked at gathering data on the involvement of race as a risk factor for thyroid issues. The relationship between race and thyroid issues was previously unknown.[viii]
People exposed to radiation in the neck
In order to treat various types of cancer in the neck and head, often, radiation is being used. However helpful this might seem at the moment, the problem is that a lot of the patients are not aware that they are being exposed to the risk of developing a thyroid issue at the same time.
Radiation exposure is thought to increase the risk of autoimmune thyroid disease. But that is not all. These patients are often seen developing thyroiditis, although only temporary, because of the radiation exposure that they have gone through during their treatment for any head or neck cancer that they have been diagnosed in the past. But environmental radiation exposure has also been linked to numerous thyroid issues, including hypothyroidism, thyroid nodules, and thyroid cancer.[ix]
People who have undergone thyroid surgery
Thyroidectomy, which represents a removal of the thyroid gland, partial or total, is the usual choice for treatment in the case of thyroid cancer. However, this seems to be a knife with two blades for these patients.
15% of the patients who have undergone a thyroidectomy have been diagnosed with hypothyroidism later in their lives.[x] If left untreated, hypothyroidism leads to major health issues on its own. So you see, while thyroidectomy can potentially save a patient’s life, the events that it leads to putting this very same patient in danger once again. These patients need to be closely watched for any potential hypothyroidism symptoms that they might experience after their surgery and act fast in order to maintain their health at the highest level possible.
During pregnancy, the woman's body is constantly changing in order to support the pregnancy. That means that there is extra pressure that all of the body organs are feeling while they are working extra hard to make the development of the little one possible.
The extra pressure that is put on the thyroid gland in order to produce more thyroid hormones than usual can often create additional thyroid issues. It is not uncommon for pregnant women to struggle with an autoimmune thyroid disease during their pregnancy. Research also shows that postpartum thyroiditis is also quite common, affecting around 1 in 12 women after their pregnancy.[xi]
People who use certain medications
Potentially used to treat a health issue of interest, certain medications are known to cause something much more negative than simply causing some simple side-effects. Unfortunately, there is a list of known medications that have been linked to the development of thyroid dysfunction among other health issues.
Medications such as amiodarone, interferon-alpha, lithium, and interleukin-2 have been all linked to the occurrence and development of thyroid dysfunction in the past. Their use is thought to lead to hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism, affecting the overall thyroid function and causing a decline in the patient’s health.
We constantly learn about the many negative effects that smoking has on our health, and today we get to add yet another effect of that sort to the already long list. It appears that smoking is directly linked to the poor health condition of our thyroid gland.
There is clear evidence that speaks about the ability of smoking to cause a decline in the TSH levels and an increase in the thyroid hormone levels, especially in the areas where there is iodine deficiency.[xii] By doing so, smoking causes alterations, although mild, in the function of the thyroid gland. There is an increased risk of thyroid cancer and goiter due to active smoking.
Thyroid issues are more common within some people than others. For some, it is their lifestyle that is leading to an increased risk, while for some, the risk is simply written within their genetic code.
The most important thing is to learn to recognize if you belong to any risk group and if you do, what can you do to reduce your risk as much as possible and improve your health in the future.
Thyroid dysfunction needs to be prevented, and your doctor can tell you all about the prevention methods that you need to know about.
[ii] Cutolo, M., Capellino, S., Sulli, A., Serioli, B., Secchi, M. E., Villagio, B., & Straub, R. H. (n.d.). Estrogens and autoimmune diseases. Annals of the New York Academy of Science, 1089, 538–547. doi: 10.1196/annals.1386.043
Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17261796
[iv] Schmid, D., Ricci, C., Behrens, G., & Leitzmann, M. F. (2015). Adiposity and risk of thyroid cancer: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Obesity Reviews, 16(12), 1042–1054. doi: 10.1111/obr.12321
Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/obr.12321
[v] Panicker, V. (2011). Genetics of Thyroid Function and Disease. The Clinical Biochemist Reviews, 32(4), 165–175
Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3219766/
[vii] Ajish, T., & Jayakumar, R. (2012). Geriatric thyroidology: An update. Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism, 16(4), 542. doi: 10.4103/2230-8210.98006
Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3401753/
[viii] Mcleod, D. S. A., Caturegli, P., Cooper, D. S., Matos, P. G., & Hutfless, S. (2014). Variation in Rates of Autoimmune Thyroid Disease by Race/Ethnicity in US Military Personnel. Jama, 311(15), 1563. doi: 10.1001/jama.2013.285606
Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24737370
[ix] Brent, G. A. (2010). Environmental Exposures and Autoimmune Thyroid Disease. Thyroid, 20(7), 755–761. doi: 10.1089/thy.2010.1636
Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2935336/
[x] THYROID SURGERY Many patients who become hypothyroid after lobectomy will recover normal thyroid function. (n.d.)
Retrieved from https://www.thyroid.org/patient-thyroid-information/ct-for-patients/july-2017/vol-10-issue-7-p-7-8/
[xi] THYROID FUNCTION IN PREGNANCY. (n.d.)
Retrieved from https://www.thyroid.org/patient-thyroid-information/ct-for-patients/vol-2-issue-6/vol-2-issue-6-2/
[xii] Pontikides, N., & Krassas, G. (2002). Influence of cigarette smoking on thyroid function, goiter formation, and autoimmune thyroid disorders. Hormones, 1(2), 91–98. doi: 10.14310/horm.2002.1156
Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17110360