Can You Dive With a Thyroid Disorder?
Thyroid problems can gravely affect the metabolism and body function. Therefore, if you want to learn scuba diving but concerned about thyroid conditions, you might want to learn how these problems can influence your planned activities.
The Thyroid Gland
The thyroid is an essential gland that secretes thyroxin, a hormone that helps control the rate of burning carbohydrates or commonly known as metabolic rate. In excess quantities, it causes hyperthyroidism or thyrotoxicosis and too little secretion causes hypothyroidism or myxedema.
• In hyperthyroidism, heart and respiratory rate increases, body weight decreases and too much secretion may lead to cardiac problems like tachycardia, serious dysrhythmias and heart failure. It also includes anxiety or discomfort, muscular weakness and paralysis.
• In hypothyroidism, heart rate and metabolism are slow. It may cause fatigue, slow or absence of reflexes and may also lead to heart failure.
What divers should be concerned about?
A diver needs to be concerned about the body’s ability to function considering the increased work load that hyperthyroidism might pose to the heart. Taking into account the load of diving with huge gear, the heart might not be able to handle it. The fact that a person with hyperthyroidism is susceptible to having attacks of paroxysmal atrial tachycardia or atrial fibrillation, a condition wherein the heart has episodes of rapid beating that can lead to unconsciousness or malfunction of the body. Thinking about these risks, being underwater can be catastrophic.
When is the right time to Dive?
Whether a person already experienced diving before or still planning on doing recreational scuba diving, the appropriate time to dive is when the patient is euthyroid or normal thyroid level on a stable dose of replacement medication. However, patients with ophthalmopathy will need to be disqualified while undergoing treatment and if it is unsuccessful, may need to be disqualified permanently.
What are the requirements for right decision-making?
• Endocrinology consultation
• Laboratory studies
• Ophthalmological consultation, if there are related eye conditions like exophthalmos or the protrusion of the eyes
Three Main Therapies
• Medical treatment with Methimazole or similar drugs. There is a 50% relapse rate, some cases relapsing early.
• With Radioactive Iodine, 10 to 15% of cases will be on low thyroid condition within 2 years while 50 to 60% will be hypothyroid within 20 years.
• Surgery. A third of patients undergoing surgery will be hypothyroid within 10 years so they have to review regularly for the rest of their lives.
After treatment of hyperthyroidism, thyroid hormone levels often drop below normal that can lead to hypothyroidism, but the missing hormone can be replaced with Synthroid, a synthetic substitute that restores thyroid hormone levels in the blood to normal. Muscle pain and weakness are the presenting symptoms in 25% of patients. There are also cases wherein weakness and tremor can be mistaken for decompression accidents.
Scuba diving is considered unsafe for an individual with hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism. If the thyrotoxicosis is untreated, thyroxin can sometimes be secreted in large quantities that might result to debilitating symptoms to a diver.