A small bowtie- or butterfly-shaped organ, the thyroid sits in the front of your neck just above the collarbone and acts much like a regulator for the body. By storing and releasing two hormones (T3, T4), the thyroid controls how quickly you burn calories (metabolism) and how fast the heart beats.
“Women are five to eight times more likely to suffer a thyroid problem than men,” says McLeod OB/Gyn Dr. Joycelyn Schindler. “One in eight women will develop a thyroid disorder in her lifetime and it may disrupt her menstrual period or her ability to get pregnant. So, spotting thyroid disease and treating it is important for many women.”
HYPO vs. HYPER
In women, the most common problem is an underactive thyroid or hypothyroidism, an inflammation of the gland. Hashimoto’s Disease triggers the body to mistake thyroid cells as enemies and tries to destroy them. Energy slumps, heart rate drops, brain fog settles in, lack of ovulation leads to infertility and the risk of diabetes rises.
The most common symptoms for hypothyroidism include:
Once blood tests confirm the diagnosis, medication can usually replace the missing thyroid hormones, bringing a person back to normal.
Overactive thyroid or hyperthyroidism is also known as Graves’ Disease and most often affects women between 20 and 40 years old. It’s like someone stepping on the accelerator of a parked car, revving the engine and triggering:
Sometimes medication can help reduce the amount hormone that the pituitary gland is telling the thyroid to produce. Other times, radioiodine helps kill off some of the overactive cells, leaving the patient with life-long hypothyroidism. The condition can require surgery, in which a portion or all the thyroid gland is removed, again creating life-long, but easily treated, hypothyroidism.
PROBLEMS DURING PREGNANCY
In addition to creating irregular periods and problems getting pregnant, a thyroid condition during pregnancy brings about problems for the mother and baby.
Untreated thyroid disease can lead to premature delivery, preeclampsia, or miscarriage. Health problems for the gestating baby can also result in heart failure, growth issues or brain development.
PROBLEMS AFTER THE BABY’S BORN
About 10% of women suffer from postpartum thyroiditis, or inflammation after giving birth. The symptoms – moodiness and fatigue – can be mistaken for postpartum depression and it can last up to a year.
ACTION YOU CAN TAKE
If you experience the symptoms of underactive or overactive thyroid – especially those that affect your menstrual cycle or ability to get pregnant – ask your OB/Gyn to run some blood tests. You’ll be better for it as will the baby you’ll deliver.
Find an OB/Gyn near you.
Sources include: McLeod Health, American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists, American Thyroid Association, North American Menopause Society, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services