Hashimoto’s thyroiditis—in fact, any thyroid condition, whether hypo- or hyperthyroid—can affect your heart and your cardiovascular system.

Estimates are that anywhere from 9-15% of women have some form of thyroid disorder. There are fewer men with thyroid disorders, but the rate gets more equal the older we get. By the time a man is in his 70s or 80s, he has similar risks for thyroid disease as does a woman in her 70s or 80s.

So what is the risk to the heart and blood vessels with thyroid diseases? Well, first, remember that the thyroid glands help control metabolism and energy. The heart needs enormous amounts of energy and its metabolism is always “on”!

People with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis are usually hypothyroid—but they can swing back and forth from a hypo- to a hyper-thyroid state and this can damage the heart. In the hypothyroid state, the blood pressure is low and the heart beats more slowly. Hypothyroidism can eventually result in high levels of cholesterol, even when they are eating well or have no family history of high cholesterol—it is a by-product of the disease. This may cause an increased risk of atherosclerosis—or the formation of cholesterol-containing plaques that can block off blood vessels—or can break off and get lodged in the heart or the lungs.

When someone with Hashimoto’s disease goes into a hyperthyroid state, they can experience increased heart rates, palpitations and irregular heart rhythms (arrhythmias). These arrhythmias can cause atrial fibrillation (afib) that causes the wall of the small chamber of the heart (the atria) to contract with no rhythm—and these contractions are essentially useless to pump blood through the heart or the body.

A study called the “Rotterdam study” showed that women with undiagnosed (subclinical) hypothyroid diseases were almost twice as likely to have blockages in the aorta—the main artery of the body.

In addition, a number of studies have shown that during menopause, women acquire similar risks to men for heart disease—it is unlikely a coincidence that Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and other hypothyroid conditions become much more common in these older women. Menopause puts women at higher risk for heart disease—and so does Hashimoto’s thyroiditis!

So what can you do? First, make sure that if you have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, you are being properly treated. The treatment is generally some form of thyroid hormone replacement therapy. Second, watch the cholesterol levels and make sure you are taking in plenty of fiber—remember, increased fiber can decrease cholesterol levels. Look into taking omega-3 supplements (don’t forget to consult your healthcare professional!) Keep physically active and keep the blood flowing—staying in good physical shape is not a guarantee, but it certainly moves the odds over in your favor!

Finally, keep to the diet approaches you learned in Diseaseless. These approaches can minimize your inflammatory levels—and that nudges those odds into an even better place!