Many with Hepatitis C Have Abnormal Thyroid
Discovering individuals with a thyroid disorder to be chronically infected with the Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is becoming an increasingly common occurrence. Although new diagnoses of HCV are confirmed each day, an estimated four million Americans are currently known to be living with this virus. Because approximately 20 million Americans are currently living with a thyroid disorder and those with HCV are at a significantly higher risk of thyroid disorders, awareness of symptoms for both ailments can be helpful in recognizing this kind of dual affliction. While a majority of people with HCV are asymptomatic, signs of a thyroid condition may be substantial enough to investigate the possibility of Hepatitis C infection. Likewise, living with a thyroid disorder may mask any symptoms prompting someone to be evaluated for Hepatitis C.
Thyroid abnormalities in HCV-infected patients have been previously reported in respected medical journals, but little is known about the prevalence and nature of thyroid disorders in such patients. Dr. Alessandro Antonelli and colleagues from the University of Pisa School of Medicine, Italy examined the prevalence and nature of thyroid disorders in those with Hepatitis C in a 630-patient study. The authors reported that of those testing positive for anti-thyroid antibodies, significantly more people had Hepatitis C than those with Hepatitis B or with no infection at all.
The association between thyroid abnormalities and HCV implies that people with Hepatitis C should be screened for thyroid function on a regular basis. According to lead author Antonelli, “A substantial proportion [of people with HCV] — 13 percent in our series — have hypothyroidism, and thus might benefit from treatment.”
In lieu of everyone getting tested for both HCV and thyroid disorders, recognizing a symptom of either condition may be the first indication that such examination is necessary.
Hepatitis C Symptoms
Nearly 80 percent of people with Hepatitis C do not experience any symptoms until they have advanced liver disease. Even when recognized as problematic, Hepatitis C’s symptoms usually come and go, and are mild and vague. Although some of these discomforts coincide with a thyroid disorder, symptoms of HCV may include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Fatigue or weakness
- Liver area pain
- Dark colored urine
- Pale or grey colored stool
- Confusion or difficulty concentrating
- Low grade fever
- Fluid retention in the belly, legs or entire body
- Skin itching
- Vomiting blood
The Thyroid Gland
Resting in the middle of the lower neck, the thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland. In order to perform its primary function of controlling the body’s metabolism, the thyroid produces hormones, T4 and T3, which tell the body’s cells how much energy to use. A properly functioning thyroid will maintain the right amount of hormones needed to keep the body’s metabolism functioning at a satisfactory rate.
Diseases of the thyroid gland are very common, the most common diseases of which are an over- or under-active gland. Producing too much hormone, an overactive gland is known as hyperthyroidism. Known as hypothyroidism, a thyroid that produces too little hormone is an underactive gland. Due to either hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism, an enlarged thyroid gland is often referred to as a goiter. Additionally, people may develop masses or lumps in their thyroid glands. Appearing gradually or very rapidly, all thyroid lumps should be evaluated by a physician. People of all ages and races can get thyroid disease. However, women are five to eight times more likely than men to have thyroid problems.
While many people with HCV have an additional diagnosis of hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism, Antonelli points out that many with Hepatitis C unknowingly have anti-thyroid antibodies. Produced by the immune system to help fight infection, antibodies are usually produced in response to the introduction of foreign substances in the body. Unfortunately, the immune system can produce antibodies acting against the body itself, causing unwanted inflammation and damage. Known as autoimmunity, some people generate antibodies that act against the tissue in their own thyroid gland. This autoimmune problem may result in inflammation and subsequent thyroid gland injury that can cause hypothyroidism.
Thyroid Disorder Symptoms
The following are symptoms for hypothyroidism:
- Frequent, heavy menstrual periods
- Weight gain
- Dry, coarse skin and hair
- Hoarse voice
- Intolerance to cold
The following are symptoms for hyperthyroidism:
- Muscle weakness/tremors
- Infrequent, scant menstrual periods
- Weight loss
- Sleep disturbances
- Enlarged thyroid gland
- Vision problems or eye irritation
- Heat sensitivity
Although the physiological mechanics between thyroid disorders and Hepatitis C remain elusive, an association between the two is irrefutable. Since western medicine offers people many solutions to correct an abnormal thyroid, uncovering this imbalance can significantly improve a person’s quality of life. Although there is some crossover between HCV and thyroid disorder symptoms, being aware of their possible co-existence can help a person discover a previously unknown ailment. As such, a person increases their odds of getting the help they need for Hepatitis C or an abnormal thyroid.
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Testa A., et al, Prevalence of HCV antibodies in autoimmune thyroid disease, European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences, July-August 2006.
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www.entnet.com, Thyroid Gland, American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, 2007.
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