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How do Thyroid Problems Affect Women?

Thyroid gland

The small thyroid gland can be the cause of big health complications, especially for women. It is estimated that 20 million Americans suffer from some type of thyroid disease, and women are five to eight times more likely than their male counterparts to experience a thyroid disorder in their lifetime. Women should understand their potential heightened risk factors, and the symptoms and side effects that may indicate a thyroid complication.

About Your Thyroid
The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland at the base of your neck that produces a hormone that controls a variety of bodily functions. In particular, thyroid hormone impacts how quickly your heart beats, how many calories you burn, digestive functions, muscle control, bone maintenance, and even brain development. When you experience a thyroid problem, and your thyroid produces either too much, or not enough of this hormone, you may experience a variety of complicated health symptoms.

Thyroid Risks for Women
One in eight women will develop a thyroid problem during their lifetime. Women are particularly susceptible to thyroid complications especially after a pregnancy, and after menopause. In general, thyroid problems in women may cause:

  • Menstrual period irregularities, including periods that are very heavy, very light, or very irregular. Some women may also experience amenorrhea, which occurs when their menstrual cycle stops for a prolonged period of time.
  • Problems with ovulation, which can result in difficulty conceiving.
  • Complications during pregnancy that may impact you and your fetus.
  • Early menopause.

More complicated thyroid-related health conditions that impact women may include the following:

Hyperthyroidism. A condition in which your thyroid produces an excessive amount of hormone. As a result, many of your metabolic functions speed, including your heart rate. Symptoms may include rapid weight loss, anxiety, increased sweating, irregular periods, fatigue, and difficulty sleeping. Women with hyperthyroidism may have difficulty getting pregnant.

Hypothyroidism. A condition in which your thyroid does not produce enough hormone. As a result, your body’s functions, and in particular your metabolism, decelerate. Symptoms may include feeling fatigued, being overly cold, muscle weakness, weight gain, joint pain, depression, and heavy periods. Women with hypothyroidism may also have difficulty getting pregnant.

Pregnant women are at greater risk for developing thyroid complications, however diagnosing a problem with the thyroid is more difficult during pregnancy because of the hormone changes that occur at that time. Both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism can cause complications for mother and baby, so be sure to speak with your OBGYN if you are pregnant and think you may be suffering from a thyroid condition.

Thyroiditis. Inflammation of the thyroid, which sometimes occurs postpartum—affects 10 percent of women. Postpartum thyroiditis is often misinterpreted as postpartum depression, as it sometimes causes feelings of depression and sadness.

Postpartum thyroiditis often occurs in two phases. The first phase occurs one to four months after the baby is born and lasts for one to two months. During this time, women may experience side effects similar to those of hyperthyroidism. The second phase typically starts four to eight months after the baby is born, and may last six to twelve months. During this time, women may experience symptoms similar to that of hypothyroidism. It is important to note that not all women experience both phases of postpartum thyroiditis.

Thyroid Nodules. Affecting four times as many women as men, this condition is marked by swelling in one section of the thyroid gland. Some develop a single nodule in their thyroid, while others develop several nodules. If grown large enough, thyroid nodules may cause difficulty swallowing or breathing.

Goiter. A condition in which the thyroid becomes unusually enlarged, goiter impacts more women than men, and is more common is women before menopause. Symptoms include swelling of the neck, which may cause coughing, or problems swallowing or breathing.

Thyroid Cancer. Like goiter and thyroid nodules, symptoms may include swelling in the neck. Your doctor will conduct tests to determine if a swollen thyroid is the result of cancer. Women are three times more likely than men to develop thyroid cancer. You may be at an even greater risk of developing thyroid cancer if you have been treated with radiation therapy to the head or neck, have a history of goiter, or a family history of thyroid cancer.

For more information on thyroid disorders that could impact you or your baby if you are pregnant of looking to become pregnant, speak to your OBGYN about your risk factors today.


January is Thyroid Awareness Month

Learn How a Thyroid Screening Can Save Your Life

Thyroid awareness monthJanuary is Thyroid Awareness Month, and for good reason. An estimated 20 million Americans suffer from some form of thyroid disease, and up to 60 percent are unaware of their condition. Women in particular are at risk for thyroid disease, and are five to eight times more likely than men to have thyroid problems. By understanding the symptoms and warning signs of thyroid diseases, including thyroid cancer, and committing to regular check-ups, you can reduce your risk of developing a serious health condition.

The Thyroid’s Role in Regulating Your Metabolism.
Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped endocrine gland located in your neck just above your collarbone. It produces hormones that help your body regulate your metabolism. When not functioning properly, it can cause your system to accelerate, a condition known as hyperthyroidism, or decelerate, a condition known as hypothyroidism. Symptoms of hyperthyroidism include rapid weight loss, high blood pressure, anxiety and insomnia. Symptoms of hypothyroidism include a weak or slow heartbeat, muscular weakness, constant fatigue, weight gain, depression, slow reflexes, sensitivity to cold, puffy skin, slowed mental processes and poor memory, and constipation.

Thyroid Diseases.
Other thyroid diseases may include:

  • Thyroid nodules – lumps in the thyroid gland
  • Thyroiditis – swelling of the thyroid
  • Goiter – an enlargement of the thyroid gland often causing difficulty swallowing or breathing

Thyroid Cancer.
Thyroid cancer is the fifth most common form of cancer in women. Women are at a greater risk for developing thyroid cancer if they:

  • Are between ages 25 and 65
  • Are Asian
  • Have a family member who has had thyroid disease
  • Have had radiation treatments to their head or neck

You should see a doctor if you have a lump or swelling in your neck. To test for Thyroid cancer your doctor will likely perform a physical exam, blood tests, imaging tests, and a biopsy. Treatment options depend on the type of thyroid cancer you have and how it has developed. Treatment may include surgery, radioactive iodine, hormone treatment, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or targeted therapy.

The Benefits of Self-exams.
Examining your neck on a regular basis may help you identify lumps or enlargements that are indicative of thyroid disease. To perform a self-exam:

  • Use a mirror to study the lower middle area of your neck, above the collarbones, and below the larynx.
  • Tip your head back, take a drink of water, and swallow.
  • Look at your neck and check for any bulges near your collarbone.

If you do see a protrusion in the area of your thyroid, schedule an appointment with your doctor.

The Benefits of Screenings.
Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) testing is a simple blood test that measures whether your thyroid gland is functioning normally. Ask your doctor about a TSH test if you:

  • Are over 60 years of age
  • Have recently been pregnant or have delivered a baby within the last six months
  • Have a family history of thyroid disease
  • Have previously been treated for a thyroid problem
  • Have had neck surgery or radiation
  • Have pernicious anemia (a vitamin B12 deficiency)
  • Have type 1 diabetes
  • Have primary adrenal insufficiency

According to The American Thyroid Association, thyroid function should be measured in all adults beginning at age 35 and every five years thereafter. Women taking synthetic thyroid hormone replacements should have a TSH blood test at least once per year. Women with a history of thyroid problems who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant should discuss more frequent testing with their doctors.