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Many with Hepatitis C Have Abnormal Thyroid

Nicole Cutler L.Ac. May 23, 2013

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“Although the physiological mechanics between thyroid disorders and Hepatitis C remain elusive, an association between the two is irrefutable.”

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
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Liver area pain
  • Jaundice
  • Dark colored urine
  • Pale or grey colored stool
  • Confusion or difficulty concentrating
  • Headache
  • Irritability
  • Low grade fever
  • Fluid retention in the belly, legs or entire body
  • Insomnia
  • 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.

Thyroid Abnormalities

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.

Anti-Thyroid Antibodies

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:

  • Fatigue
  • Frequent, heavy menstrual periods
  • Forgetfulness
  • Weight gain
  • Dry, coarse skin and hair
  • Hoarse voice
  • Intolerance to cold

The following are symptoms for hyperthyroidism:

  • Irritability/nervousness
  • 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.


Galossi A, et al., Extrahepatic Manifestations of Chronic HCV Infection, Journal of Gastrointestinal and Liver Diseases, March 2007., Antithyroid antibodies and test for hypothyroidism, Christine Wendt, RD, LD, Colleen Cronin, Yahoo! Inc., 2007., Thyroid Disorders Common with Hepatitis C, About, Inc., 2007.

Testa A., et al, Prevalence of HCV antibodies in autoimmune thyroid disease, European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences, July-August 2006., Thyroid Disease, The Cleveland Clinic, 2007., Hepatitis C Symptoms, WebMD, 2007., Thyroid Gland, American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, 2007., Thyroid Disorders Common with Hepatitis C, PakTribune, 2007., What are Antithyroid Antibodies?, Johns Hopkins Thyroid Tumor Center, 2007.



Higher Rates of Hepatitis C Mean More Testing Needed

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Simeprevir Has High SVR Rate in Hep C Trial

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  • Linda Balzano

    ya just cant win,

  • irma glutz

    I’m not surprised… I have been gaining weight for the last 20+years and didn’t know I had Hep C until mid last year.. In a clinical trial now thankfully, but still have 40+ extra pounds.. No one has ever mentioned my thyroid, but I have always been suspicious, since I am not a big eater.. in fact.. 650 calories a day is what it takes for me to lose weight..

    • Cheri

      OMG I can’t believe I’ve found this article. In the last 3 years, I’ve gained 100 pounds. I eat hardly anything either. I guess my doc never considered this. I can’t believe in this day and age doctor’s still look at you like you’re a drug user or something because you have the C.

  • jcfried

    It is well known that Hep C causes autoimmune disorders. This includes the ever popular Grave’s Disease which causes your thyroid to grow, and often, the Grave’s is followed by Addison’s Disease which destroys the adrenal cortex and is normally a very rare disorder. Your physician should be told if they are not already aware that if you have Hep C, they should consider autoimmune disorders that they would normally consider unlikely.

    • jean emily

      I was transfused with tainted blood platelets (Hep C) in 1990…due to an autoimmune disorder…since then I’ve developed many other autoimmune disorders, the first being Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, the latest, Scleroderma. I sometimes don’t know what’s going on or what caused what… just know I’m tired, old and worn out with all these problems. Did my original autoimmune disorder trigger the others or was it the Hep C I was transfused with all those years ago?…I’ll probably never knew and nobody seems to care!

      • jcfried

        Hep C is known to cause autoimmune diseases. In fact the autommune diseases may be a sign of autoimmune Hepatitis. While i was born with some autoimmune diseases i acquired more, including Grave’s Disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis and Addison’s Disease, after the Hep C. I hope you know that there are non-interferon cures for Hep C that are going to be available by 2014 and they appear to have few side effects, unlike the interferon treatment.

  • john

    If 15%of people who have hep.c naturally lose the decease and the rest have treatment that is skeptical for success and causes problems, whats really going on here? Its like a medical cover up or something, and no-one cares anything about the truth, except that the drug manufactures want to make huge profits from a decease that should be treated, Is this what medical school costs pay for?

  • George Henderson

    there are 3 different factors at play here –

    first, HCV infection like other chronic viral infections can trigger sensitivity to peptides of the gluten type (e.g. wheat, corn, milk), this sensitivity can result in autoimmunity. A natural, grain-free paleo diet will reverse this in most cases.
    Secondly, HCV sequesters selenium causing deficiency, and selenium is required to activate and deactivate thyroxine.
    Thirdly, iodine deficiency is often a problem in people who try to limit salt or who eat various hippie salts instead of iodised table salt.
    I recommend supplementing about 150mcg selenium, the same amount of iodine, and giving up grains, legumes like soy and peanuts, and vegetable seed oils. Watch how much brassica (cabbage, broccoli etc) you eat also.

  • Sourdo

    I contracted “Interferon induced Thyroiditis” from 48 weeks of peginterferon and ribavirin tx. The initial Hyperthyroidism was extreme and very very uncomfortable. I had all the symptoms. A couple of months later my thyroid stopped when I was told; “Your thyroid is dead and you’ll be on synthroid the rest of your life”. The tx failed, it was 2004.

    A year later, done with the treatment, my thyroid “wakes” up and with an attitude! It only took the stupid docs 6 months to concede I didn’t need synthroid anymore. Never mind I lost 25 lbs, couldn’t drink caffeinated drinks as I was already wound up tight.

    After stopping the synthroid it’s been mostly fine with some occasional “hiccups” now and then, some minor hyperness. Years go by.

    5 years ago a Dr tried to give me 100ug a day synthroid. On the 4th pill i knew it was a mistake. Took a week to calm down.

    Last week, (I’m 61 yo) I had the mother of storms. NO sleep, anxious, heart pounding, it just popped up. I usually don’t see the Thyroid Bus till it is already ran me over. I did have the presence of mind to go grab some labs last week. At first glance it they look normal, maybe that is part of the problem.

    I need a real good endo guy/gal….