Link Between Hepatitis and Thyroid Disease

Nurse scanning patient's thyroid gland
Sonja Pacho/Corbis/VCG/Getty

There is a link between infectious hepatitis and thyroid disease. The reason for this link is not completely clear, but studies show that you may have a slightly increased risk of developing impaired thyroid hormone function or thyroid cancer if you have hepatitis. While there are many types of hepatitis, including alcoholic hepatitis, inflammatory liver disease, and several varieties of infectious hepatitis, it is chronic hepatitis C infection that is most consistently associated with thyroid disorders.

Hepatitis C and Thyroid Hormone Levels

Thyroid hormone levels can be affected by hepatitis. Chronic hepatitis C is associated with a hypothyroidism, which is underactive thyroid function. It has not been associated with hyperthyroidism, which is overactive thyroid function.

Anti-Thyroid Antibodies

The development of hypothyroidism in chronic hepatitis C appears to be at least partially caused by anti-thyroid antibodies. Antibodies are proteins that normally help your body fight infection. Sometimes, for unknown reasons, a person can produce antibodies that turn against one's own body, creating an autoimmune reaction. These anti-thyroid antibodies prevent the thyroid gland from producing proper levels of thyroid hormones, resulting in hypothyroidism.

Anti-thyroid autoantibodies are one explanation for thyroid dysfunction in hepatitis, but experts believe there are others. The overall cause for the link between the two conditions is not completely understood.

Interestingly, thyroid function does not typically improve after medical treatment for hepatitis C. But after a liver transplant, thyroid function can improve and the anti-thyroid antibodies can decrease.

Hepatitis C and Thyroid Cancer

Due to its effects on the liver, hepatitis C substantially increases the risk of hepatic (liver) cancer. Hepatitis C is also associated with an increase in several other types of cancer, including lymphoma, pancreatic cancer, and thyroid cancer.

Your liver plays a role in producing proteins necessary for maintaining the adequate function of your immune system. Most people know that the immune system works to fight off infections, but it also helps protect against cancer. The effect of hepatitis C on the immune system is believed to play a role in the increased risk of thyroid cancer with hepatitis C.

Yet, it is not known why hepatitis C—rather than other types of hepatitis, which also affect the liver—causes this effect. It is also not known why hepatitis C raises the risk of certain types of cancer, but not others.

Interferon Therapy and Thyroid Disease

Pegylated interferon and ribavirin (PegIFN-α/RBV) therapy is a type of immunologic treatment used for hepatitis C infection. It decreases the viral load, which is the amount of virus in the body, and it reduces many of the symptoms and effects of hepatitis.

This treatment is believed to cause hypothyroidism in some people and hyperthyroidism in others. While the link between PegIFN-α/RBV and thyroid disease has been noted for years, it remains somewhat controversial.

The thyroid symptoms and alterations of thyroid hormone generally do not improve if the medication is discontinued. Yet, while thyroid disease is a noted side effect of PegIFN-α/RBV treatment, an increased risk of thyroid disease and thyroid cancer has been noted among people with hepatitis C prior to treatment with PegIFN-α/RBV as well.

A Word From Verywell

If you have chronic hepatitis C, your primary concern is certainly related to your liver function. There are some other effects of hepatitis C infection as well, which are described as extrahepatic manifestations of the disease. Thyroid disease is one of the concerns with chronic hepatitis C infection, and it is often recommended that periodic thyroid function tests be obtained so that the symptoms of thyroid disease can be diagnosed and treated, if necessary.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources