Thyroid Problems May Vary By Race

Graves disease rates were higher among military personnel who were not white but whites had more of another thyroid illness

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Some diseases are more dominant in certain groups than others. Disorders of the thyroid may be among illnesses for which race matters.

A new study of active US military personnel concluded that black service people and those of Asian/Pacific Island ancestry were substantially more likely than whites in the armed forces to have one form of a thyroid disorder, Graves disease.

However, whites were more likely than blacks and people of Asian/Pacific Island descent to be have been diagnosed with a second type of thyroid disorder, Hashimoto thyroiditis.

"Learn the symptoms of thyroid disorders."

Donald S. A. McLeod, MPH, FRACP, of the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, Queensland, Australia, was the lead author of this study whose researchers included persons based in the United States.

Using medical records from the US Defense Medical Surveillance System of all in-patient and out-patient care of its military personnel, Dr. McLeod and his research team determined the number of cases of Graves disease and of Hashimoto thyroiditis diagnosed among active duty personnel from January 1997 to December 2011. Those American military servicemen and service women ranged in age from 20 years to 54 years.

There were 1,378 cases of Graves disease diagnosed in women and 1,388 cases in men during the study period. There were 758 cases of Hashimoto thyroiditis in women and 548 cases in men.

In addition, black women were diagnosed with Graves disease at almost twice the rate as the entire group that was diagnosed with Graves disease. Black men were diagnosed with Graves disease at two and one half times the rate of the entire group.

Asian/Pacific Islander women had 1.7 times the rate of Graves disease as the entire group. Asian/Pacific Islander men were diagnosed with Graves at 3.3 times the rate of the entire group.

When it came to Hashimoto thyroiditis, whites has the highest disease rates, these researchers found.

The thyroid gland produces hormones that control metabolism, the rate at which the body burns food for fuel.

Native Americans, Alaska Natives, those who listed their race as “other” or whose race was unknown were excluded from the comparison of thyroid disease rates because insignificant numbers of them had been diagnosed with the disease.

Graves disease is the most common type of over-active thyroid. It’s symptoms include bulging eyes, an enlarged thyroid (goiter), exhaustion, irregular heartbeat, sleeplessness, slightly trembling hands, anxiety, irritability, irregular menstrual periods, erectile dysfunction and weight loss, even when a person is eating enough food.

With Hashimoto thyroiditis, cells and antibodies that are supposed to work at keeping a person’s immune system healthy, instead, attack the thyroid. That can make the thyroid overactive or under active. Its symptoms include hair loss, intolerance to cold, irregular periods, dry skin, irritability, mild weight gain and constipation.

Hashimoto disease occurs more often in middle-aged women than any other sub-group.

These researchers wrote that the differences in rates of thyroid disease among different racial groups may be affected by genetics, exposure to certain environmental factors or a combination of those things.

This study was published online April in JAMA.

The Cancer Council Queensland funded the study.

One of these study’s researchers reported being paid royalties for being an editor at Up-to-Date, which reviews a variety of medical journals.

Review Date: 
April 14, 2014
Last Updated:
April 18, 2014