Thyroid Disease and Diabetes

Thyroid disease is common, and the numbers of people affected increases with age. Hyperthyroidism is the most common thyroid disorder among adults and is the most common in elderly women. Thyroid failure due to surgery or radioactive iodine therapy (cancer treatment) is also very common.

Diabetic patients have a much higher prevalence of thyroid disorders compared to the general population. Thyroid disorders are common among females and it is estimated that up to 30 percent of female diabetics have a thyroid disorder. The rate of thyroiditis among diabetic females after pregnancy is 3 times higher than in normal women.

Your Thyroid

Thyroid Disease and DiabetesDiabetes and thyroid disease are both endocrine, or hormone problems. When a person is a diabetic and has thyroid disease it is much harder for them to control blood glucose levels.

Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in your lower neck, not far beneath the skin. The thyroid regulates your body’s metabolism, the process of using and storing energy, by releasing a substance called thyroid hormone. If it produces too much thyroid hormone (hyperthyroidism), your metabolism quickens, and if too little hormone (hypothyroidism) is produced your body’s metabolism slows down. You may have heard overweight women complain that weight loss is not possible because of their thyroid not working properly to maintain a healthy metabolism.


It’s important to recognize the symptoms of both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism so you can get treated in a timely manner. Don’t try to self-diagnose or self-medicate because many of these symptoms are similar to many other diseases. Once you begin having any symptoms go to your doctor so he/she can determine what it is that is causing your symptoms.

Hyperthyroidism Symptoms

  • Pounding heart
  • Quick pulse
  • Increased sweating
  • Weight loss despite normal or increased appetite
  • Shortness of breath when exercising
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle weakness or tremors
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Change in menstrual periods
  • Thick skin on the knees, elbows, and shins

Untreated Hyperthyroidism

Untreated HyperthyroidismIf left untreated for a prolonged period of time hyperthyroidism can cause excessive bone loss which can lead to osteoporosis (bone thinning). Osteoporosis raises your risk of bone fractures from routine falls that normally would not be harmful.

People with diabetes who also have neuropathy are at a greater risk for falling due to poor foot sensation. Sometimes patients will experience a loss of the stimuli that tells the brain where a body part is in space, in relation to other objects.

Combine hyperthyroidism and diabetes when neuropathy is present and you have an increased risk of fractures that could result in disability; especially in the elderly.

Hypothyroidism Symptoms

  • Fatigue
  • Sluggishness
  • Depression
  • Feeling of being cold even when others feel warm
  • Constipation
  • Weight gain unrelated to increase in eating
  • Low blood pressure
  • Slow pulse

Diabetes and Thyroid Disorder during Pregnancy

Pregnancy-related thyroid dysfunction is 3 times more common in women with diabetes. Postpartum thyroiditis can cause a fluctuation in thyroid hormone levels following delivery. Symptoms can include fatigue, depression, irritability, and heart palpitations. Blood sugar control and insulin requirements may be affected during a period of thyroid dysfunction.

If hyperthyroidism is not controlled properly during pregnancy the risk of complications like preeclampsia and fetal problems like prematurity, increases. It’s vitally important to maintain normal thyroid function and rigid control on blood glucose during pregnancy.

Effects on Diabetes

When your metabolism quickens, (hyperthyroidism), medicines go through your body much quicker. Your blood glucose (sugar) rises because your normal dosage does not stay in your body long enough to control it.

Hyperthyroidism and low blood sugar may be hard to tell apart. If you are sweating and shaking from hyperthyroidism you may think your blood sugar is too low, making you want to eat more food which can cause your blood glucose levels to rise to dangerous levels.

When your metabolism slows down (hypothyroidism), your blood glucose (sugar) can drop because your diabetes medicine doesn’t pass through your body as quickly and stays active longer. Sometimes those with hypothyroidism have to lower their insulin dosage to prevent low blood sugar.

Treatment of Thyroid Disease

Most all thyroid diseases are treatable. Both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism may require long-term or lifelong treatment. Treatment will depend on the specific diagnosis.

  • Hypothyroidism
  • Hyperthyroidism

Treatment of Hypothyroidism

The treatment for hypothyroidism is to replace the missing thyroid hormone. Levothyroxine, a synthetic medicine, is the most common form of hormone treatment and can be taken in pill form once a day. This is an easy and very effective form of treatment. Initially patients will need to be tested every 2-3 months until a stable dosage is achieved.


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