Thyroid Cancer Survivors' Risk of Hypertension & Cardiomyopathy

thyroid cancer, hypertension, high blood pressure, cardiomyopathy
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If you are a thyroid cancer survivor you face an increased risk of developing age-associated diseases, as compared to people who have never had thyroid cancer. The research study generating this finding was published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. 

The risk of age-associated diseases was even higher if you were younger than 40 when you were diagnosed with thyroid cancer.

While most forms of thyroid cancer are considered survivable and have a good prognosis, more younger people are being diagnosed with thyroid cancer. It’s important to understand the future risks, so that thyroid cancer survivors can avoid health complications later in life.

About the Study

In the study, more than 3700 thyroid cancer survivors were evaluated. They were all diagnosed in the timeframe between 1997 and 2012. The control group was matched to a cancer-free group with similar age, gender, and birth locations. Among the 3700 thyroid cancer survivors studied, around 37 percent received a diagnosis before they were 40 years old.  

The research found that the group of younger survivors faced higher risks of developing a variety of circulatory conditions typically associated with aging. These include:

  • The risk of hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, was significantly higher in the survivor group.
  • The risk of cardiomyopathy was significantly higher in the thyroid cancer survivor group. Cardiomyopathy is a condition where heart muscles are abnormal. This makes it more difficult for your heart to pump blood throughout the body, and increases your risk of heart failure.

The authors concluded, “Future studies are needed to assess what can be done to reduce the increased risks of these long-term health effects.”

About High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure increases your risk of illness or death from heart disease, stroke, heart failure, and kidney disease.

If you are a thyroid cancer survivor, you should have your blood pressure regularly checked. While hypertension frequently has no symptoms at all, be aware that some signs and symptoms you may experience include:

  • Headache or a sensation of pressure in the head
  • Blurred vision
  • Dizziness or shakiness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fluid retention and swelling of the legs
  • Chest pain
  • Pain in the legs and feet when walking
  • Cold feet

There are some lifestyle changes you can make to help prevent or treat hypertension, including:

  • Weight loss: Losing even 10 pounds can significantly reduce your risks.
  • Reduction of dietary sodium and salt: If you are overweight, even a small increase in sodium can increase your risk of hypertension and heart disease. Experts recommend you limit sodium intake to no more than 100 mmol per day (approximately 2.4 g of sodium)
  • Adequate intake of dietary potassium of more than 3,500 mg per day 
  • Increased physical activity: 30 minutes of aerobic exercise most days of the week can reduce hypertension risk and related complications
  • Moderation of alcohol consumption: Limiting alcohol intake to 10 oz. wine, or 2 oz. of other alcohols (less in women and lighter-weight people) can reduce the risk of hypertension and related complications
  • Potassium supplementation: lowers blood pressure, especially if you consumer higher levels of sodium
  • Dietary changes: The DASH Diet - Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension significantly lowers blood pressure and reduces risks of complications

There are also a number of medications that can be used to reduce high blood pressure and manage hypertension, including:

  • Blood pressure medications
  • Beta blockers and calcium channel blockers, to slow the heart rate
  • ACE inhibitors, also known as angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
  • Angiotensin II Receptor Blockers (ARBs)
  • Diuretics (water pills), to reduce sodium levels and fluid retention

About Cardiomyopathy

If you are a thyroid cancer survivor, you should be aware of the signs and symptoms of cardiomyopathy, which can include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Swelling of your legs, ankles and feet
  • Abdominal bloating (ascites), due to excess fluid
  • Coughing, especially when you are lying down
  • Fatigue
  • Irregular heartbeats, palpitations, rapid heartbeat
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness and fainting

Some things you can do to help prevent or treat cardiomyopathy include:

  • A healthy diet and weight loss (or preventing weight gain)
  • Regular exercise
  • Sufficient sleep
  • Stress reduction
  • Avoiding alcohol and/or cocaine
  • Controlling high blood pressure
  • Controlling high cholesterol
  • Controlling diabetes

There are also medications that can help with cardiomyopathy, including:

  • Aldosterone blockers, to balance electrolytes and help the heart muscle work properly
  • Antiarrhythmia drugs to keep heart rhythm normal
  • Medications to lower blood pressure
  • Anticoagulants or blood thinners, to prevent blood clots
  • Corticosteroids and other anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Diuretics (water pills), to reduce sodium levels and fluid retention
  • Beta blockers, calcium channel blockers, and digoxin, to slow the heart rate and lower blood pressure

In some cases, cardiomyopathy that does not respond to lifestyle changes and medications may require pacemakers or defibrillators, or treatment with non-surgical ablation.

A Word From Verywell

While research is still needed to evaluate the mechanisms behind the increased risk of hypertension and cardiomyopathy in thyroid cancer survivors, it makes sense to be aware of the signs and symptoms of these conditions, get frequently monitored, and proactively make the healthy lifestyle changes that can reduce your risk.

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