Some research suggests certain underlying factors may increase the risk of both ulcerative colitis and thyroid disease, but further research is needed.

Ulcerative colitis (UC) is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes inflammation in the colon and rectum.

Research indicates that between 25% and 40% of people with IBD have complications in other parts of the body, such as the:

  • eyes
  • joints
  • bones
  • liver
  • kidneys
  • skin

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located in your neck, right above your collarbone. The thyroid uses hormones to manage your metabolism.

Some people have both UC and thyroid disease, but research does not suggest that one causes the other.

Rather, research from 2018 suggests that underlying factors may increase your risk of both conditions.

Keep reading to learn more about the potential link between UC and thyroid disease.

The exact link between UC and thyroid disease remains unclear. However, some studies suggest certain underlying factors may be behind both conditions.

A 2016 literature review, which looked at research going back several decades, showed conflicting evidence on the rates of two common types of thyroid disease — hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism — among people with UC or Crohn’s disease.

Additionally, a 2023 study indicated that genetically predicted IBD can increase the risk of developing Grave’s Disease (GD) by 24%. In turn, having genetically predicted Crohn’s Disease increases the risk of GD and likewise, genetically predicted GD can increase the risk of Crohn’s Disease. Interestingly, ulcerative colitis could actually prevent GD. However, this study infers some causation, rather than a randomized control trial.

Hyperthyroidism is when the thyroid makes too much hormone, while hypothyroidism is when the thyroid doesn’t produce enough.

Some studies in that review found higher rates of thyroid disease among people with UC than among the general population. On the other hand, some studies discovered no significant difference in the rates of the condition, or they even found lower rates of thyroid disease among people with IBD.

Research from 2020 indicated that people with IBD had a lower risk of thyroid disease than people without IBD.

Another 2020 study looked at the relationship between IBD and Graves’ disease, an autoimmune thyroid disorder that causes hyperthyroidism. The study’s authors determined that having IBD may increase the risk of developing Graves’s disease by 24%.

However, the authors noted that while there is a higher rate of Graves’ disease among people with Crohn’s disease, the same wasn’t true for UC. Rather, UC may protect against Graves’ disease.

Graves’ disease is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

It may be connected to genetic abnormalities, overgrowth of intestinal bacteria, and overactive immune systems that are also prevalent among some people with UC, according to a 2017 clinical trial.

Congenital hypothyroidism, another type of thyroid disease, may be connected to similar underlying factors behind UC, according to a 2018 study. Researchers found that people with congenital hypothyroidism were more likely to have IBD and certain genetic abnormalities or mutations than the control group.

Research on the possible connection between thyroid disease and UC is ongoing. Further study is needed before experts can draw any firm conclusions.

Research hasn’t shown that UC causes thyroid problems or vice versa.

Instead, it’s indicated some common underlying factors may exist behind the two conditions. These may include:

  • an imbalance in the immune system
  • genetic mutations
  • an overactive thyroid
  • an overgrowth of bacteria in the intestines

It’s possible to have both thyroid issues and UC at the same time. You can talk with a healthcare professional if you have UC and experience symptoms of thyroid disease.

According to the Office on Women’s Health, symptoms of a thyroid issue may include:

  • weight loss or gain without a change in diet
  • feeling cold or hot when others don’t
  • pain in your joints or muscles
  • constipation or diarrhea
  • muscle weakness
  • changes in menstruation, such as a lighter or heavier flow
  • puffy face
  • increased sweating
  • sleep concerns
  • trembling in your hands
  • feeling nervous, anxious, irritable, sad, or depressed
  • skin that’s dry or paler than usual
  • dry, thin hair
  • changes in heart rate

There’s no cure for UC or thyroid disease, but there are ways to treat and manage both conditions to help improve your quality of life.

Ways to reduce the risk of UC flares include:

  • medications (such as biologics, corticosteroids, or immunomodulators)
  • surgery to remove the colon (in cases where medication doesn’t work)
  • dietary changes and avoidance of symptom-causing foods
  • stress reduction techniques, such as physical activity, yoga, and breathing exercises

Treatments for thyroid conditions depend on which disease you have. You may need to take medication, undergo radioiodine therapy, or undergo surgery to remove some or all of your thyroid, among other potential treatments.

A doctor can provide personalized treatment recommendations if you have UC, thyroid disease, or both.

Clinical trials may continue to investigate links between thyroid disease and UC, as well as treatments that could help both conditions.

Participating in a clinical trial could give you the opportunity to try new treatments for your conditions. However, there are risks involved, too.

You may receive the standard treatments or a placebo, and you may experience side effects. That’s why it’s important to weigh the potential downsides and benefits before signing up for a clinical trial.

If you’re interested in getting involved in a clinical trial for UC and thyroid conditions, talk with a doctor to see if they know about upcoming studies. You can also search for clinical trials through the National Library of Medicine or the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation.

How do you know if your thyroid is making you sick?

Symptoms of thyroid disease may be similar to symptoms of other health conditions. They can include feeling hot or cold when others do not, gaining or losing weight without eating more or less food, and changes in menstruation, such as a lighter or heavier flow, among others.

If you experience these symptoms, consider talking with a doctor so they can order the proper tests to determine the cause.

Can hyperthyroidism and ulcerative colitis coexist?

Yes, you can have both hyperthyroidism and ulcerative colitis. Certain underlying factors may increase your risk of both conditions.

What does thyroid fatigue feel like?

Hypothyroidism can make you feel tired and sluggish. You may also have other symptoms, such as weight gain, constipation, and feeling cold when others do not.

What does thyroid anxiety feel like?

Hyperthyroidism can make you feel nervous or anxious. You may also have other symptoms, such as diarrhea, weight loss, and feeling warm when others do not.

While some people with UC also have a type of thyroid disease, the link between the two conditions is unclear. Doctors don’t believe that UC causes thyroid disease or vice versa.

However, there may be an underlying factor, such as a genetic abnormality, that increases the risk of both conditions.

If you have UC and experience symptoms of a thyroid condition, consider talking with a doctor. They may test your thyroid function.

While there’s currently no cure for UC or thyroid disease, medications and other treatments can help you manage the conditions and reduce your symptoms.

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