Can Rheumatoid Arthritis Cause Thyroid Problems?

Updated April 17, 2017

The symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and thyroid disease often mimic each other. Both conditions may be the result of an autoimmune disorder, and there seems to be some evidence that there may be a genetic disposition to develop both conditions. Some people with weak immune systems may develop both diseases and not know it until blood and urine tests are performed, so it may appear that rheumatoid arthritis sometimes causes thyroid problems.

Reumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder. An inflammatory type of arthritis, it affects more women than men,and causes joint pain and swelling that may lead to deformity.

Thyroid Gland

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in the front of the neck, which produces hormones that regulate body temperature, produce energy and assist other organs in functioning. Thyroid disorders can cause tenderness and stiffness in muscles and joints. Because the symptoms are similar to arthritis symptoms, thyroid disease is commonly misdiagnosed as arthritis.

Rheumatoid Arthritis and Thyroid Problems

Infection seems to play a significant role in both rheumatoid arthritis and thyroid problems. "Eighty per cent of patients with autoimmune arthritic disorders (i.e., Rheumatoid arthritis, Lupus, Sjogren's, etc) and approximately 70 per cent of those with autoimmune thyroid disorders (i.e., Graves,' Hashimotos', thyroiditis) have signs of an infection." says Dr. David Brownstein in a Feb. 24, 2008, "Sunday Paper" interview.

Dr. April Chang-Miller of the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona, says that the appearance of a connection between the two conditions may be that many of the medications given to rheumatoid arthritis patients influence thyroid function in some way. These medications include NSAIDs and corticosteroids, as well as simple aspirin.

Cause and Effect

It may often appear to the patient (and even to the doctor) that RA has caused thyroid problems. What is most likely occurring, however, is that a pre-existing thyroid problem is uncovered when RA treatments do not seem to be working and additional tests are performed. An increase in RA symptoms may actually be an indication that a patient's hypothyroidism is not being treated successfully.

Successful Treatment of Both Conditions

While the medications and primary treatments for these two conditions may vary, and should be prescribed by a physician, there are certain lifestyle changes that have been found to be crucial in treating both conditions. These include eating a well-balanced diet containing healthy vitamin and mineral-enriched organic or whole foods and low levels of refined or processed foods. The removal of artificial sweeteners, particularly Aspertame, from your diet is also crucial. Vitamins C and B6, zinc and magnesium have been shown to help with the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and thyroid problems. Drinking plenty of water is another important step.

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About the Author

A Missouri native now living in Colorado, Kaylee Todd began writing for the Internet in 2005. Todd has an Associate of Arts in paralegal sciences from Arapahoe Community College in Littleton, Colorado. She specializes in corporate law and enjoys writing articles on legal topics and articles about meanings or definitions of words and phrases.