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The High Cholesterol Thyroid Connection

Undiagnosed Thyroid Disease May Be the Reason for Your High Cholesterol


Updated: November 20, 2009

About Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a waxy substance found only in animal foods, and is also manufactured in the liver. It is transported by fat-carrying proteins in the blood. Cholesterol helps us make and maintain nerve cells and manufacture natural hormones.

When the body cannot metabolize cholesterol properly, or foods containing too much cholesterol are consumed, an excess of cholesterol - known as hypercholesterolemia, or high cholesterol - can occur. Cholesterol can be deposited in the walls of arteries, especially around the heart, and potentially block blood flow, increasing the risk of heart attacks and strokes. High cholesterol is a key risk factor for heart disease.

Millions of Americans are trying to lower their cholesterol through improved diet, exercise, and even cholesterol-lowering drugs. For some of these patients, thyroid testing and subsequent treatment for hypothyroidism can restore the body's metabolism to normal and result in lower cholesterol levels and decreased heart disease risk. In some cases, they may even be able to, under their doctor's direction, go off the cholesterol-lowering drugs.

About Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism refers to a condition where the thyroid is underactive. The thyroid, a butterfly-shaped gland located behind and below the Adam's Apple, produces a hormone that helps regulate metabolism. When the thyroid produces too little hormone, metabolism slows, and the ability to process cholesterol is also impaired.

Common symptoms of hypothyroidism include:

  • Weight gain, or inability to lose weight
  • Fatigue, exhaustion
  • Feeling run down and sluggish
  • Depression, anxiety, mood swings
  • Constipation
  • Menstrual irregularities, including more frequent or heavier periods
  • Dry, coarse and/or itchy skin
  • Dry, coarse and thinning hair
  • Feeling cold, especially in the extremities
  • Muscle cramps, joint pain, carpal tunnel or tendonitis
Do You Have Hypothyroidism?

If you are one of the people with high cholesterol levels but you have not yet been diagnosed with a thyroid condition, how can you tell if you are hypothyroid?

  1. First, start by doing the Thyroid Neck Check, which is located at the AACE website. This easy to perform home test may help you determine if you have an enlarged thyroid, one sign of a thyroid condition.

  2. Second, fill out the Hypothyroidism Symptoms Checklist. This detailed checklist helps you review all the risk factors and symptoms of hypothyroidism. You can take this Checklist to your doctor to help get a diagnosis, or make the argument that your hypothyroid symptoms are not resolved by your current treatment.

  3. Third, ask your doctor to run a Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) test to evaluate your thyroid levels. This test can diagnose hypothyroidism in many people.

  4. Fourth, if your TSH levels are normal but you still suspect hypothyroidism, be aware that there are different ways to interpret the test results that might have an impact on your diagnosis. Read HELP! My TSH Is "Normal" But I Think I'm Hypothyroid to find out how to define the "normal" range with your doctor.

  5. Fifth, if TSH levels are normal but you have symptoms or a family history of thyroid disease, you should ask to have your thyroid antibodies tested. Antibodies usually indicate a thyroid that is in the process of autoimmune failure -- not failed yet, and often not enough to register in thyroid TSH blood tests, but in the process of failing. This may be enough to cause symptoms. For more info, read Thyroid Antibodies.
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  5. The High Cholesterol Thyroid Connection / Hyperlipidemia, Hypercholesterolemia and Hypothyroidism

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