What are the risk factors for thyroid disease?

Thyroid Health

Are you at risk of developing a thyroid disorder?


Emily Condon
BSc (Hons) Biological Sciences

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Although anyone can develop a thyroid disorder, there are a number of different factors that can increase an individual's risk of developing a thyroid disorder.

1. Being female 

Women are at a greater risk of developing a thyroid disorder compared to men. Although the reason why is not yet completely understood, it may be to do with the fact that both Hashimoto’s and Grave’s disease are autoimmune conditions. Anyone can develop an autoimmune disease, but nearly 80% of those who suffer are women. 

Oestrogen, a hormone abundant in the first half of a woman’s menstrual cycle, can enhance the inflammatory process of the immune system and contribute to thyroid attack. The pregnancy-related hormone, human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) can affect thyroid hormone levels in the blood during pregnancy, and postpartum thyroiditis can also occur after a woman has given birth. 

2. Being over the age of 50

Old age increases the prevalence of thyroid disorders for both men and women. Many over the age of 50 suffer from thyroid symptoms but go undiagnosed or are misdiagnosed as their symptoms are often blamed on old age. The incidence of thyroid disorders starts to increase after the age of 50.

3. A family history of thyroid problems 

Having a family history of thyroid disease increases the risk of developing a thyroid condition. A family history of autoimmune disease can slightly increase the risk of developing an autoimmune thyroid disease such as Hashimoto's disease or Graves' disease.

4. Radiation Exposure

Exposure of the neck to radiation, which occurs during medical treatments for neck and head cancer, increases the risk of developing an autoimmune thyroid disease, and thyroid cancer. In some medical tests, an iodine-based contrast agent is used, and this can slightly increase the risk of developing a temporary thyroiditis, or other thyroid problems.

5. Medications

Certain medications including amiodarone, interferon alpha, interleukin-2 and lithium can sometimes affect the production of thyroid hormones. 

6. Smoking

Smoking can increase the risk of developing autoimmune thyroid disease. Cigarettes contain a chemical called thiocyanate, which is as an antithyroid agent and affects the production of the thyroid hormones.

7. Low iodine intake 

Dietary iodine is very important for thyroid health as it is used by the thyroid to produce both T4 and T3. Iodine is obtained through the diet as the body can’t produce it and can be found in iodised salt, seafood, bread and milk. Low iodine levels can lead to a decrease in the levels of thyroid hormones produced. High levels can cause problems too although the effect is a little more unpredictable as it can lead to either hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism.

Learn more about thyroid disease:

What is the thyroid?

What is thyroid disease?

What is hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid)?

What is hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid)?

How is thyroid disease diagnosed?

Reverse T3 - what is it and do I need to test for it?

Reverse T3 - results explained 

What are the symptoms of thyroid disease?

Thyroid FAQs

Medicheck your thyroid

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