Can Thyroid Problems Affect Your Breathing?

Coming to the anatomical position of the thyroid gland and its details, it is shaped in the form of a butterfly right in front of the neck.

The thyroid gland consists of two lobes each of which are located on both sides of the trachea.  It is one of the most important glands of our endocrine system because it is responsible for maintaining the body’s metabolism, growth, and development.

A part of the pituitary gland also known as the master gland which is the anterior part of it secretes Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) which further helps in the secretion and synthesis of thyroid hormones from the thyroid gland.

Hormones are chemical messengers secreted in minute amounts and poured directly into the bloodstream which is then further taken to specific target organs to exert their functions. Tetraiodothyronine or thyroxine (T4 ) and triiodothyronine (T3 ) are the two thyroid hormones produced by the follicular cells of the thyroid.

Thyroid gland
By TheBlackRhino/ Unlimphotos

1. Thyroid Diseases Can Be Broadly Divided Into:

1.1 Hypothyroidism-

If a person has more TSH levels than normal, it means he has an underactive thyroid gland.  Thyroid hormone production drops off. In this condition, the thyroid gland enlarges leading to goitre, and makes too little thyroid hormone which is not enough to meet the body’s energy requirements.

This condition is often caused by the deficiency of iodine which it turns out is essential for the normal rate of synthesis in the thyroid.

Hypothyroidism is quite a common issue that stays undetected. A condition known as Hashimonto’s disease activates hypothyroidism. 

Due to this disease, the antibodies that are produced by the body start attacking the thyroid gland, as it fails to distinguish between foreign and self-produced cells and this results in the glands producing fewer hormones. 

Hypothyroid patients suffer from fatigue (feels tired), weight gain, dry skin, constipation, hair loss depression, and forgetfulness.

Treatment of Hypothyroidism

The proper way to treat hypothyroidism would be to replace the amount of hormone which is no longer being made by the thyroid gland. This is typically done with a thyroid hormone replacement with the help of medication. 

1.2 Hyperthyroidism-

A low level of TSH indicates it suggests that the person has an overactive thyroid gland that produces too much thyroid hormone.  The thyroid hormone production spikes off.

Thyroid cancer can lead to this condition wherein the rate of synthesis and secretion becomes abnormally high leading to negative effects on the physiology of the body which gives rise to hyperthyroidism

These thyroid nodules increase the amount of T3 hormone. It can also be caused due to Graves Disease which is also an autoimmune condition and is a genetic condition as well. Excessive intake of iodine can also cause hyperthyroidism. 

The key symptoms of hyperthyroidism are tachycardia ( increase in heart rate), weight loss, excessive thirst, increased appetite, thin, warm, and moist skin, and frequent bowel movements as in diarrhea. 

By creativepic/unlimphotos

2. Diagnosis of Thyroid Disorders

The diagnosis followed by treatment of thyroid disorders is extremely important. Firstly, the thyroid gland has quite a few important functions as discussed.

Secondly, both untreated hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can lead to several complications such as heart disease or heart failure, goitre. In most cases, thyroid cases go undetected because of the shared similarity of symptoms with other conditions. 

One of the most decisive ways to diagnose a thyroid disorder is by running a few simple blood tests. These blood tests determine the thyroid hormone levels and are done by collecting blood from the vein in the arm. The specific blood tests include Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH), Thyroxine (T4), and Triiodothyronine (T3). 

3. Can Thyroid Problems Affect Your Breathing?

Regulation of cellular respiration and heart rate are both performed by thyroid hormones. Both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism affect breathing.

All the muscles of the body require the help of the thyroid hormone to contract, an exercise wherein the muscles shorten, and contract to complete the activity of breathing.

Breathing capacity and functioning of the lungs are calculated aptly by pulmonary function tests. According to research and case-control studies, it has been found that hypothyroidism patients generally tend to score lower on pulmonary function studies compared to those with hyperthyroidism as a result of which hypothyroidism patients tend to suffer from exercise intolerance: they pant heavily and experience nausea and feel tired. 

Can Thyroid Problems Affect Your Breathing
by: kuprevich on Unlimphotos

Inhalation and exhalation both involve the diaphragm and external intercostal muscles. Low levels of thyroid hormone decrease the tonality of the muscles and respiratory muscle weakness causing difficulty further in breathing. Persistence of severe weakness of the diaphragm can it make it harder to breathe even while at rest.

Pulmonary surfactant is specific lipids and proteins that protect the alveoli of the lungs, protecting the lungs from foreign particles that may cause infections and removing the extra fluid from the alveoli.

Any change in the amount of pulmonary surfactant can cause a change in the level of oxygen entering the bloodstream as well as the amount of carbon dioxide level entering the alveoli. This causes a further significant change because it is known that an increase in carbon dioxide levels causes breathing to become deeper and shallower.

Goiter can be caused in both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism patients wherein there is an enlargement of the thyroid gland observed. With the increase in the size of the thyroid gland, the amount of air moving through the trachea to the lungs which is also the windpipe is significantly reduced. This may lead to problems in breathing, wheezing, and coughing.

A person suffering from sleep apnea finds their breathing to stop and resume while sleeping. This can greatly affect the amount of oxygen entering the lungs during the night. Snoring is a frequent sign and symptom of sleep apnea.

Research has found that one-fourth of hypothyroidism patients or those with autoimmune conditions such as Hashimoto’s suffer from obstructive sleep apnea which is a type of sleep apnea that is caused when the upper airways are blocked. People who are overweight or observe changes in hormone levels are at a higher risk for obstructive sleep apnea.

In patients with low levels of thyroid hormone i.e. in those suffering from hypothyroidism, their condition can further aggravate sleep apnea by causing weight gain, obstruction in the upper airway, and a decrease in the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide levels being exchanged.

In the situation of a pleural effusion, there is an accumulation of fluid in the layers of tissue between the lungs and the wall of the chest.

This condition has been observed in one-fourth of hypothyroidism patients. Higher levels of fluid buildup can cause rapid breathing, shortness of breath, and chest pain. Fluid moves from small blood vessels into the pleural space very easily in the case of hypothyroidism. This condition can be treated by hormone replacement therapy.

Though rare, patients with untreated hypothyroidism can develop myxedema coma, which is a long-lasting, fatal disease which is associated with too little thyroid hormone being produced by the thyroid gland.

This can lead to respiratory failure in a patient which will make it difficult for them to breathe on their own. This in turn can cause the carbon dioxide levels to surge and oxygen levels to fall off. Symptoms of myxedema coma are reduced breathing and low blood pressure.

3.1. Determination of Functional Lung Impairment in Patients With Thyroid Disorders

Maximal exercise testing can be used to determine the amount of exercise that one’s body can tolerate. Having thyroid disorders makes it harder to exercise.

Such an investigation can allow the doctor to step in at the earliest and decide the course of the treatment if required.

4. Association Between Thyroid Function and Acute Exacerbation of  Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a group of conditions that influence the lungs and instigate later breathing problems. Complications with thyroid function are common in COPD and can lead to the deterioration of COPD symptoms. Case-control studies are being conducted to deduce the relationship between thyroid dysfunction and COPD.

5. Steps Towards Awareness

The American Thyroid Association is a professional institution consisting of several medical specialists committed to thyroid disease and the prevention and treatment of the disease through greatness in research, education, and public health.

They even happen to have a website dedicated to their cause. The homepage of the website displays the viewers’ journal, and clinical trial data and they even conduct events and programs.

Last Updated on December 24, 2023 by