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April 07, 2023 8 min read

Hypothyroidism can leave you feeling like a shadow of yourself. You're tired, cold, and struggling to remember simple things, let alone focus on complex tasks. And let's not forget the frustrating weight gain that seems to defy all your efforts. But there's another aspect of hypothyroidism that most people don't know about – its potential impact on your heart.

Yep, you read that right. Hypothyroidism can give your heart a hard time. But what's the deal? How does hypothyroidism affect your heart, and more importantly, what can you do about it? Let's explore the connection between hypothyroidism, heart rate, beats per minute (BPM), and the various ways this sneaky disorder can affect your heart health.

How does hypothyroidism affect your heart?

Hypothyroidism, also known as underactive thyroid, is a condition that occurs when your thyroid gland doesn't produce enough thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3), collectively called thyroid hormone.

Hypothyroidism can cause significant heart problems. Even subclinical hypothyroidism, which is a mild form of thyroid disease, has been found to increase cardiovascular risk. That's why doctors need to diagnose and treat hypothyroidism as soon as possible to prevent further complications.

Here are some ways hypothyroidism can affect your heart:

1. Slowed heart rate

The thyroid hormones play a vital role in maintaining the overall metabolism of the body, and this includes the functioning of the heart as well. The hormone responsible for these effects, thyroxine (T4), is converted into triiodothyronine (T3), which influences the heart rate, blood pressure, and cardiac output. 

When your body lacks these essential hormones, it can cause your heart rate to slow down, a condition called bradycardia. A healthy adult's heart rate typically ranges between 60 and 100 beats per minute (BPM). However, in hypothyroid patients, this number can drop below 60 BPM. This decrease in heart rate can lead to fatigue, shortness of breath, and even fainting. 

2. Blood pressure

Hypothyroidism can also affect your blood pressure. With a decrease in thyroid hormone levels, your blood vessels lose their elasticity, making it harder for blood to flow through them. This causes an increase in diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number in a blood pressure reading). High diastolic blood pressure leads to a condition known as diastolic hypertension.

Hypothyroidism usually doesn't cause high systolic blood pressure, which is the top number in a blood pressure reading. However, some studies have suggested a potential link between the two in certain populations.

High blood pressure can put you at an increased risk of developing heart disease and stroke. It's essential to monitor your blood pressure regularly and work closely with your healthcare provider to maintain it within a healthy range.

3. Increased cholesterol

Another heart-related issue that arises due to hypothyroidism is an increase in cholesterol levels. Thyroid hormones play a crucial role in regulating the metabolism of fats, including cholesterol. Low thyroid hormone levels can cause a decrease in the breakdown and removal of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, also known as the "bad" cholesterol.

Elevated levels of LDL cholesterol can lead to a buildup of plaque in the arteries, a condition called atherosclerosis. This increases the risk of developing heart diseases, such as coronary artery disease, heart attack, or stroke. Thus, it becomes crucial to keep your cholesterol levels in check.

4. Diastolic dysfunction

When you don't have normal thyroid function and lack thyroid hormone, the heart muscle may struggle to relax following each heartbeat. This failure to relax can result in diastolic dysfunction, which occurs when the heart's pumping chamber becomes stiff. If left untreated, diastolic dysfunction can progress to heart failure.

5. Pericardial effusion

Hypothyroidism can lead to a condition called pericardial effusion, where excess fluid accumulates in the pericardial sac surrounding the heart. This fluid buildup can put pressure on the heart, impairing its ability to pump blood effectively. In severe cases, the increased pressure may lead to a life-threatening condition called cardiac tamponade that requires immediate medical attention.

6. Atrial fibrillation 

Most studies suggest that atrial fibrillation (AFib), or premature and irregular heartbeats, is more commonly associated with hyperthyroidism rather than hypothyroidism. However, some research suggests that low thyroid hormone levels may be a potential risk factor for developing AFib. More studies are needed to fully understand the relationship between thyroid disorders and AFib.

7. Worsen cardiac symptoms and accelerate underlying cardiac problems

Hypothyroidism can exacerbate cardiac symptoms in individuals with heart disease and accelerate underlying cardiac problems.

If you already experience heart failure, hypothyroidism can worsen it. The worsening of heart failure can lead to swelling (edema). Additionally, hypothyroidism itself can cause a type of edema called myxedema, which is caused by an accumulation of abnormal proteins and molecules in the fluid surrounding the body's cells. Worsening heart failure due to hypothyroidism can also result in shortness of breath (dyspnea).

Moreover, although a decrease in thyroid hormone can decrease angina (chest discomfort associated with coronary artery disease or CAD), the increase in LDL cholesterol and C-reactive protein (an inflammatory protein) associated with hypothyroidism can accelerate underlying CAD.

How can you know if hypothyroidism is the culprit?

It's worth noting that not all hypothyroid patients will experience heart problems, and not all cases of heart problems are caused by hypothyroidism. It's essential to consult with a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

If you experience any symptoms associated with hypothyroidism, such as weight gain, fatigue, dry skin, cold intolerance, dry hair, heavy menstrual periods, depression, and fertility problems, it might be a good idea to speak to a doctor right away. Be sure to look out for cardiac symptoms like palpitations, pain, and difficulty breathing as well.

If you're already diagnosed with hypothyroidism and are taking thyroid hormone treatment, you. should talk to your doctor if you notice any new symptoms.

Your doctor will diagnose hypothyroidism based on your symptoms, medical and family history, physical exams, and blood tests. The blood tests may include the following:

  • Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH ) Test - The TSH blood test is typically used as a starting point for evaluating thyroid health. Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels indicate whether or not the thyroid is producing enough hormones. When your TSH levels are high, it usually means your thyroid is underactive and not producing enough hormones.

  • Free T4 Test - This test measures the levels of free thyroxine (T4) in your blood. Ft4 results that are lower than normal further confirm the findings of the TSH test: that you have hypothyroidism.

  • Free T3 Test - This test measures the levels of free triiodothyronine (T3) in your blood. The results are often compared with TSH and T4 results to help confirm hypothyroidism diagnosis.

  • Bound T4 is a thyroxine that binds to proteins and prevents them from entering your body's tissues. More than 99% of T4 is bound.

  • Thyroid peroxidase (TPO) antibodies - In some cases, your doctor may do this test to find out if an autoimmune thyroid disease called Hashimoto's disease is the cause of your hypothyroidism.

Will treating hypothyroidism also treat heart problems?

If hypothyroidism is the cause of your heart problems, then treating it can help manage your cardiac symptoms and prevent cardiovascular disease. Doctors usually replace the hormones that the thyroid gland does not produce through thyroid hormone replacement therapy in order to reduce or prevent cardiac symptoms and cardiovascular disease in people with hypothyroidism.

Doctors will typically test a person's blood around six weeks after they begin taking replacement thyroid hormones, and if necessary, they can adjust the dosage until it works for the individual. Levothyroxine is one of the most common thyroid hormone replacement medications.

Types of thyroid hormone replacement therapy

Several types of thyroid hormone replacement therapies are available, each catering to individual patient needs and preferences.

1. Levothyroxine (T4)

The most commonly prescribed thyroid hormone replacement therapy is levothyroxine, a synthetic form of the thyroid hormone thyroxine (T4). Levothyroxine is available under various brand names, such as Synthroid, Levoxyl, and Tirosint. This medication effectively restores normal thyroid hormone levels and alleviates hypothyroidism symptoms in most patients.

2. Liothyronine (T3)

Liothyronine is a synthetic form of the active thyroid hormone triiodothyronine (T3). It is available under the brand name Cytomel. Liothyronine is generally prescribed when a patient has difficulty converting T4 to T3 due to certain medical conditions or when a rapid improvement in symptoms is desired. However, its use is less common than levothyroxine due to its short half-life, which requires multiple doses per day.

3. Natural desiccated thyroid (NDT)

Natural desiccated thyroid (NDT) is a thyroid hormone replacement therapy derived from the thyroid glands of pigs. It contains a combination of both T4 and T3 hormones, closely resembling the natural hormones produced by the human thyroid gland. Some popular brand names for NDT include Armour Thyroid, Nature-Throid, and WP Thyroid. It also comes in supplement form, such as VitaliThy, a natural desiccated thyroid you can buy online.

Many patients prefer NDT over synthetic options for the following reasons:

  • Natural source: NDT is derived from a natural source, making it a more appealing option for individuals who prioritize natural remedies and treatments.

  • T3 and T4 combination: Since NDT contains both T4 and T3 hormones, it can provide a more comprehensive treatment for hypothyroidism, especially for patients who have difficulty converting T4 to T3.

  • Improved symptom relief: Some patients report better symptom relief and overall well-being with NDT compared to synthetic options. This may be due to the presence of additional thyroid hormones like T1 and T2, which are not present in synthetic formulations.

  • Fewer side effects: While both synthetic and natural thyroid hormone replacements can cause side effects, some patients report fewer side effects with NDT compared to synthetic options.

Tips for Maintaining Heart Health

You may take steps to protect your heart and increase your chances of preventing heart disease.

Timely diagnosis and treatment

Monitoring your thyroid hormone levels regularly and seeking timely treatment can help prevent heart-related complications. Your healthcare provider will recommend medications like levothyroxine to manage hypothyroidism and restore normal heart function.

Healthy diet

Incorporate heart-healthy foods into your diet, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids. These foods can help lower your cholesterol levels and maintain healthy blood pressure.

Avoid smoking

Avoiding smoking may be the best option for people with hypothyroidism who are concerned about maintaining cardiovascular health. Coronary artery disease (CAD) is more likely to occur in people who smoke, and hypothyroidism can exacerbate this risk. Quitting smoking has positive effects on your health right away, and it also reduces your risk for CAD in the long run.

Do heart-healthy workouts

Engaging in moderate physical activity for at least 30 minutes a day can help improve your heart health. It can also aid in weight management, blood pressure control, and cholesterol reduction.

Stress management

High stress levels can contribute to heart disease. Practice relaxation techniques like deep breathing, yoga, or meditation to keep your stress under control.

Regular check-ups

Schedule regular checkups with your healthcare provider to monitor your heart health, including blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and heart rate. It's also important to get your thyroid hormone levels checked regularly.

Conclusion: Hypothyroidism has a significant impact on your heart

Hypothyroidism can have a significant impact on your heart health, from altering your heart rate and blood pressure to increasing cholesterol levels and causing pericardial effusion. Being aware of these connections and taking proactive steps like timely diagnosis, treatment, and lifestyle modifications can help prevent heart-related complications and ensure a healthy, happy heart.

One way to improve your heart health if hypothyroidism is the culprit is to take thyroid hormone replacement therapy. One great option is VitaliThy, a natural desiccated thyroid you can buy online. Using Thyroid (USP) as the main ingredient, it contains both T4 and T3. Plus, it's also gluten and lactose-free. And for those who have special dietary restrictions, VitaliThy doesn't contain any eggs, shellfish, fish, artificial coloring, and artificial flavoring as well.

Wojciech Majda
Wojciech Majda

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