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Is Driving While Hypothyroid Worse Than Drunk Driving?

Most drivers recognize the dangers of driving drunk. They may also know not to drive under the influence of certain prescription medications and over-the-counter drugs. Driving while hypothyroid, however, is a lesser-known risk that could cause accidents. Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland does not produce enough hormones, causing irregular metabolism. Hypothyroidism can affect energy, mood, sleep patterns, muscle strength, and other aspects of life. It could also impact an individual’s ability to drive.

Medical Conditions and Driving

Drivers should not operate motor vehicles unless they are fully capable of controlling the vehicle and paying attention to the road. Anything that impedes these abilities, such as distractions, substances, and medical conditions, can render a driver unfit.

What common medical conditions run the risk of impairing a driver?

  • Diabetes/blood sugar problems could cause a driver to lose consciousness while driving.
  • Without medications to control seizures, people with epilepsy may not be able to drive.
  • Narcoleptics could fall asleep behind the wheel without warning or suffer excessive daytime sleepiness.

Recently, physicians have added hypothyroidism to the list of conditions that could impede a driver’s abilities. Patients with significant hypothyroidism may exhibit symptoms that are not conducive to driving, such as drowsiness and delayed reaction times. If you have a significant hypothyroid condition, you could be at risk of unintentionally causing a car accident.

Hypothyroidism and Driving Risks

A study from the University of Kentucky analyzed the driving abilities of 32 people with thyroid cancer, who were no longer taking their hormone drugs and had become hypothyroid. Researchers studied the subjects during a driving simulator test and found surprising results: Those who drove while hypothyroid had similar driving test results as someone with above the legal blood alcohol concentration level. The study concluded that driving while hypothyroid could be just as dangerous as driving drunk.

The study found that hypothyroid patients experienced depression, as well as noticeable declines in neurological function. These conditions resulted in slower braking times, like a driver who is drunk. The authors of the study recommended physicians should warn patients with hypothyroidism of the risks of driving prior to having sufficient treatment with thyroid hormones. Once the drivers involved in the study received their hormones, their abilities to drive safely came back, and the negative driving effects reversed.

It is possible that driving while hypothyroid could be worse than drunk driving, as the impaired driver may not realize the risks of getting behind the wheel with hypothyroidism. While most people understand the dangers of driving drunk, they may not realize how dangerous it could be to drive with an untreated thyroid condition. The lack of knowledge and awareness could make this issue even more dangerous than drunk driving. It is up to physicians to warn patients of the potential risks of driving while hypothyroid.

What Does This Mean for Patients?

If you have hypothyroidism, you can still drive. Patients with mild to moderate hypothyroidism should not experience any driving impairments related to their condition. With severe hypothyroidism, you may be at risk, but only if you do not treat your condition and achieve a proper hormone balance. Without treatment, you could be susceptible to drowsiness, delayed reaction times, and other problems that could impact your ability to drive safely. Achieving a proper thyroid balance, however, can reverse these symptoms and enable you to drive.

You may have hypothyroidism if you experience constant fatigue, weight gain, muscle aches or weakness, joint pain, dry skin, cold sensitivity, hair loss, depression, or impaired memory. Do not operate a motor vehicle or other heavy machinery until you have seen a doctor about your symptoms and restored your thyroid balance. Otherwise, you could be a danger to yourself and others on the roadway.

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