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Hard-Hit Adrenals: Hypothyroidism Makes it More Challenging to Manage Diabetes

written by: Tricia Edgar • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 5/18/2011

Your adrenal system helps keep your body on an even keel. When the thyroid is slow, this changes your energy levels and your weight and can make diabetes management harder. Hypothyroidism and diabetes symptoms can also mimic each other.

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    Causes of Underactive Thyroid

    Hypothyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid is underactive. Some people have an autoimmune response that results in low thyroid function. Some people with an overactive thyroid decide to have their thyroid function removed, and this leads to hypothyroidism. Others have their thyroid function damaged during medical treatment to remove thyroid tissues. Low thyroid hormone levels can be treated using synthetic thyroid hormones that are in pill form. When this condition is treated, there are fewer symptoms. This is important because hypothyroidism symptoms make it harder to manage diabetes.

    The thyroid and the pancreas are both part of the body’s adrenal system. Low thyroid function and blood sugar problems can be related. People with type 1 diabetes are at higher risk of developing the autoimmune form of hypothyroidism. Those who have type 2 diabetes may be insulin resistant because they are overweight. These people should be checked for hypothyroidism, since this condition can lead to weight gain.

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    Low Blood Sugar and Hypothyroidism

    A slow metabolism can make it challenging to manage blood sugar. Some people find that their diabetes medications for type 2 diabetes stay active longer, which means that they can suffer from low blood glucose values at unexpected times. The thyroid and the blood sugar need to be managed in tandem to ensure that the person with diabetes does not suffer from frequent low blood sugars.

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    Low Energy Makes it Harder to Manage Diabetes

    A slow thyroid leads to low energy and depression. People with diabetes are challenged to get out and exercise to help keep their diabetes under control. This is especially difficult to do when you feel like sleeping. Controlling the thyroid symptoms will help maintain energy levels, and this helps people with diabetes manage an active lifestyle.

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    A Slow Metabolism Can Increase Insulin Resistance Through Weight Gain

    Hypothyroidism may lead to weight gain, and weight gain can lead to insulin resistance. Whether the person with diabetes is type 1 or type 2, weight gain makes it more challenging to manage diabetes. People who control their diabetes with insulin or pills may need more insulin or pills to achieve good blood sugar control. People who control their diabetes through diet and exercise may have a harder time doing so when they continue to gain weight due to hypothyroidism.

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    The Symptoms of Diabetes and Hypothyroidism Can Be Similar

    Hypothyroidism and diabetes have similar symptoms, and it is important to distinguish between the two to create an optimal health management program. A slow thyroid can lead to cold hands and feet. However, poor circulation is a complication of diabetes. The two symptoms can mask each other.

    Anxiety or shortness of breath can be a symptom of a slow thyroid. These can also be symptoms of low or high blood sugar. People with diabetes and hypothyroidism need to be very conscious of changes in their body and test their blood glucose frequently to ensure that anxiety symptoms are not a result of high or low blood sugar.

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    References

    American Diabetes Association. Thyroid Disease and Diabetes http://spectrum.diabetesjournals.org/content/15/3/143.full

    National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse. What Causes Insulin Resistance? http://diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/dm/pubs/insulinresistance/

    Thyroid Patients’ Advocacy: UK: Checklist of Hypothyroidism Symptoms http://www.tpa-uk.org.uk/symptoms_hypot.pdf

    University of Maryland Medical Center: Hypothyroidism Risk Factors http://www.umm.edu/patiented/articles/what_symptoms_of_hypothyroidism_000038_3.htm