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Tuesday, December 1, 2015
Inherited Disorders and Birth Defects
Thyroid Problems in Family
My mom and all three of her sisters had thyroid problems. My mom and one of her sisters had overactive thyroid and the other two had underactive thyroid. Does this mean that I will absolutely have similar problems?
Thyroid disease does run in families, however, it is not a 100% that you will have similar problems as your mom and your aunts.
An overactive thyroid is called hyperthyroidism. The most common cause of hyperthyroidism is Grave’s disease, which is an autoimmune disease where the person’s immune system forms antibodies that attack the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland then makes too much thyroid hormone causing such problems as weight loss, muscle weakness, and fatigue.
Hypothyroidism is when there is not enough thyroid hormone which leads to problems such as gaining weight, feeling sluggish or tired. A common cause of hypothyroidism is called Hashimoto's thyroiditis, which is also an autoimmune disease. And like Grave’s disease, the person’s immune system attacks the thyroid gland--as if it was foreign tissue.
For both of these diseases, the underlying cause of the autoimmune problem is not known. However, when you see both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism in a family, it is usually due to an autoimmune condition. The inheritance pattern for thyroid disease which is caused by an autoimmune problem is due to both genetic and environmental factors and is very complex. There is no simple number to give you, however, because you have a family history, you have a higher chance of developing thyroid problems than someone without any family history.
It would be important for your doctor to know about your family history and to have your thyroid checked on a regular basis.
Anne Matthews, RN, PhD
Associate Professor of Genetics
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University