The thyroid is a small gland with big responsibilities. The butterfly-shaped gland is at the base of the neck, right below the Adam’s apple. Thyroids use iodine to create hormones needed for metabolism and other body functions. These include breathing, body temperature, cholesterol, managing body weight, and much more. Anything that negatively affects hormone production is called a thyroid disorder. Thyroid disorders create a range of health issues that can be particularly serious for women.
Types of thyroid disorders
The thyroid works together with the pituitary gland and hypothalamus to create specific hormones in a perfect balance. These hormones are triiodothyronine or T3 and thyroxine or T4. Thyroid disorders affect this equilibrium. Hypothyroidism is the most common, which is an underproduction of hormones. Hyperthyroidism, an overproduction of thyroid hormones, does not happen as frequently. Other thyroid problems include goiters, thyroiditis, thyroid nodules, and cancer. Each of these disorders may be accompanied by an overproduction or underproduction of thyroid hormones.
Thyroid and reproduction
Women should be acutely aware of thyroid disorders. In fact, women are more likely to have thyroid disorders than men. Throughout a woman’s entire reproductive life, the thyroid gland is hard at work, so disorders can affect reproductive function. For instance, thyroid disorders can stop periods, also called amenorrhea. Women may also experience light periods or heavy periods. Poor thyroid function even prevents ovulation and could be responsible for infertility.
Can thyroid disorders harm your pregnancy?
Women who are pregnant can also be affected by thyroid disorders. Hyperthyroidism is extremely rare but can increase the intensity of morning sickness. Low hormone production is more common and dangerous. Hypothyroidism can cause premature births, miscarriages, or stillbirths. Monitoring the mother’s health during pregnancy is crucial and can help identify thyroid issues. From there, doctors can treat pregnant women on a case-by-case basis.
Thyroids affect menopause too
There are links between thyroid function and menopause. Menopause signals the natural end of a woman’s menstrual cycle. At this point, women are unable to get pregnant. Thyroid disorders like hyperthyroidism can create early onset menopause. On the other hand, hypothyroidism can increase the intensity of menopause symptoms. Look for these signs closer to menopausal age and monitor hormonal levels with a doctor’s help.
Symptoms and signs of a thyroid disorder
The symptoms of a thyroid disorder are varied and can often be confused with other conditions. Common signs and symptoms include fatigue, low concentration, irregular heart rate, irregular body temperature, and joint pain. Some people see unintentional weight loss or weight gain and changes in bowel habits. Symptoms that affect reproductive health include irregular periods, prolonged menstrual bleeding, and menopausal symptoms.
A positive outlook
While thyroid disorders can severely affect reproduction, women should know that these conditions are treatable. A doctor can first identify thyroid dysfunction through blood tests that measure TSH levels. From there, medication can help with the overproduction or underproduction of thyroid hormones. Other prescription medication can help manage the unbearable symptoms. In severe cases, like cancer or thyroid nodules, surgery may be necessary to remove part or all of the thyroid. Overall, thyroid disorders can be managed once identified. For more information, speak with a healthcare provider.