The Connection Between Thyroid Disease and Smoking

Smoking Can Make the Symptoms of Thyroid Disease Worse

Young woman smoking cigarette outside office building
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We all know that cigarette smoking is bad for us, but few people realize that there are significant connections between smoking and the development or worsening of various thyroid conditions, including hypothyroidism, Graves' disease, and thyroid eye disease?

Thyroid conditions affect an estimated 20 million Americans, up to 60 percent of them undiagnosed, and the majority of them women. In fact, according to the American Thyroid Association, women are 5 to 8 times more likely to develop a thyroid condition than are men.

An underactive thyroid cause symptoms such as fatigue, weight gain and depression. An overactive thyroid can cause anxiety, panic attacks, high blood pressure/pulse, and bulging eyes, among other symptoms. Having a thyroid problem also puts you at increased risk for heart disease, obesity, and depression.

What are some connections between thyroid disease and smoking?

Here are some worrisome facts concerning the links between thyroid disease and smoking:

  • Studies show that smokers are more likely to have thyroid enlargement, a potential sign of thyroid disease.
  • The longer and more you've smoked, the more risk of thyroid disease you face.
  • Smoking increases the risk of Graves' Disease, particularly among those with autoimmune thyroid disease.
  • Smokers were more likely to progress to more serious thyroid eye disease than nonsmokers. (Treatment for thyroid eye disease is four times more effective in nonsmokers than smokers.)

I Heard That People Have Become Hypothyroid After They Quit Smoking

For some reason, there seems to be some link between smoking cessation and diagnosis with hypothyroidism. Specifically, certain studies have shown that people who quit smoking are 6 times more likely to be diagnosed with hypothyroidism within 2 years of smoking cessation.

Moreover, studies have also shown that people who quit smoking are more likely to develop thyroid antibodies. (Remember that certain thyroid conditions are autoimmune in nature.)  Finally, one hypothesis posits that the weight gain a person can experience after smoking cessation is actually a symptom of hypothyroidism.

Please don't interpret these findings as reason to continue smoking. If you don't quit smoking, you put your life, lungs, heart and so forth at great risk. Instead, once you quit smoking you should follow up with your physician regularly and make sure that your thyroid status is monitored.

What Should I Know About Quitting?

If you smoke, the potential for developing a thyroid problem--and the associated weight gain, fatigue, depression and even bulging eye disease -- are just more important health reasons to quit.

If you have thyroid disease and are a smoker, you should quit smoking now! Smoking can worsen your existing thyroid problem.

If you have Graves' disease or thyroid eye disease, you absolutely must quit smoking to help prevent further progression of problems or worsening of your eye problems.

How to Quit Smoking

There are many effective ways to quit smoking, and you can find out about them all using the smoking cessation guide.

It's also a good idea to meet with your primary care physician to discuss a plan to quit smoking.

Please keep in mind that it often takes several attempts to quit smoking before you actually succeed. Smoking cessation is difficult and challenging but well worth the benefit to not only your thyroid but also your heart, lungs and more.

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