Am I at risk of developing a thyroid condition?
Anyone can develop a thyroid condition, but several factors can increase your risk. We look at some of these factors in more detail.
As many as one in 25 people in the UK has a diagnosed thyroid condition, and many others are undiagnosed .
Thyroid conditions vary and there are several different causes behind the development of thyroid disease. But are there certain factors that can leave you more at risk of developing a thyroid condition?
In this blog, we discuss:
- Does having an autoimmune condition increase the risk of developing a thyroid condition?
- Does being over 50 increase the risk of developing a thyroid condition?
- Does having a family history of thyroid disease increase your risk of developing a thyroid condition?
- Does smoking increase your risk of developing a thyroid condition?
- Does low iodine intake increase your risk of developing a thyroid condition?
- Does being female increase the risk of developing a thyroid condition?
- Are men at risk of a thyroid condition?
Does having an autoimmune condition increase the risk of developing a thyroid condition?
Most thyroid conditions are caused by an autoimmune disease, such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or Graves’ disease. Having an autoimmune condition makes you more likely to develop another autoimmune condition, such as Hashimoto's or Graves' disease. For example, thyroid disease is more common in people with rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, vitiligo, or lupus.
While there isn’t a cure for autoimmune thyroid disease, it can be managed with the right treatment plan.
Does being over 50 increase the risk of developing a thyroid condition?
Some thyroid conditions are more likely to develop at different stages of life:
- Hypothyroidism – most people develop hypothyroidism when they're 50 or over.
- Hyperthyroidism – this condition is most likely to develop between the ages of 20 and 40.
- Thyroid cancer – women are most often diagnosed between the ages of 44 and 49. In men, it's most common between the ages of 80 and 84 .
Does having a family history of thyroid disease increase your risk of developing a thyroid condition?
Yes, having a family history of thyroid disease (or another autoimmune disease) increases your risk of developing a thyroid condition, such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or Graves’ disease.
Does smoking increase your risk of developing a thyroid condition?
The effect of smoking on the thyroid is complex. There are lots of toxic compounds in cigarette smoke that likely affect thyroid function, including thiocyanate, 2,3-hydroxypyridine, and perhaps nicotine .
Smoking seems to cause a mild decrease in TSH and increase in thyroid hormones. It may also play a role in thyroid autoimmunity. In particular, smoking has been associated with an increased risk of Graves' disease and thyroid eye disease. Here, smoking may increase the risk of disease and reduce the effectiveness of treatment. The role of smoking in Hashimoto's is not quite as clear .
Does low iodine intake increase your risk of developing a thyroid condition?
Dietary iodine is important for thyroid health as the thyroid uses it to produce T4 and T3. The only way to get iodine is through your diet because the body can't produce it.
Iodine can be found in iodised salt, seafood, bread, and milk. Low iodine levels can lead to hypothyroidism, as there is not enough iodine to make thyroid hormones. However, iodine deficiency is rare in the UK.
Too much iodine can lead to either hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism.
Have a look at our information on foods that are good for thyroid health.
Does being female increase the risk of developing a thyroid condition?
As many as one in 25 people have a thyroid condition , but women are five to ten times more likely to experience a condition with their thyroid gland than men. And there are several reasons why.
Why are women more at risk of developing a thyroid disorder?
There are several theories why women are more likely to be affected by an autoimmune condition, such as:
- Genetics - biological females have two X chromosomes, and males have an X and Y chromosome. The X chromosome contains many genes linked to immunity. Sometimes, gene mutations lead to the development of an autoimmune condition. With two X chromosomes, the likelihood of this occurring is greater in women.
- Hormonal changes - women's hormones fluctuate dramatically throughout puberty, pregnancy, and menopause. It's thought that hormonal changes may be linked to the development of autoimmune conditions.
Are men at risk of a thyroid condition?
While thyroid problems may be more common in women, it’s important not to overlook that men can be affected too. Sexual symptoms are quite common in men, including low sex drive, erectile dysfunction, and ejaculatory problems. One study showed these symptoms affected over half of men with hypothyroidism .
How can I test for a thyroid condition?
You can test your thyroid function from the comfort of your home with our range of Thyroid Blood Tests.
Not sure which thyroid blood test is right for you? Take a look at our Thyroid Blood Test Buying Guide or try our test finder.
- Hypothyroidism prevalence (no date) NICE. Available at: https://cks.nice.org.uk/topics/hypothyroidism/background-information/prevalence/ (Accessed: 31 May 2023).
- Risks and causes of thyroid cancer (2022) Cancer Research UK. Available at: https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/thyroid-cancer/causes-risks (Accessed: 31 May 2023).
- Sawicka-Gutaj, N. et al. (2014) ‘Influence of cigarette smoking on thyroid gland--an update’, Endokrynologia Polska, 65(1), pp. 54–62. doi:10.5603/ep.2014.0008.
- British Thyroid Foundation. n.d. Your thyroid gland. [online] Available at: <https://www.btf-thyroid.org/what-is-thyroid-disorder#:~:text=About%20one%20in%2020%20people,just%20below%20your%20Adam's%20apple> [Accessed 2 March 2022].
- Gabrielson, A.T., Sartor, R.A. and Hellstrom, W.J.G. (2019) ‘The impact of thyroid disease on sexual dysfunction in men and women’, Sexual Medicine Reviews, 7(1), pp. 57–70. doi:10.1016/j.sxmr.2018.05.002.
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