- The thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland found at the base of the neck, just below your Adam’s apple. The gland makes thyroid hormone responsible for controlling metabolism in a number of ways, including how quickly the body burns calories or the heart beats.
- Diseases of the thyroid cause it to make either too much or too little of the hormone, which can result to weight changes, mental disturbances, and temperature intolerances.
- Women are more likely than men to have thyroid diseases, especially right after pregnancy and after menopause, and can cause a series of health problems if left unmanaged.
- Recognizing thyroid problems and symptoms in women can help postulate personalized treatment options.
Common Thyroid Diseases and Symptoms in Women
Women are more likely to develop thyroid disease, including hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, thyroiditis, and thyroid cancer:
The most common cause of hypothyroidism is properly known as Hashimoto’s disease, or autoimmune thyroiditis, in which the patient’s own immune systems attacks and damages its own thyroid gland.
In hypothyroidism, the thyroid produces lesser amounts of thyroid hormones. When the thyroid hormones are low, metabolism starts to slow down and can cause the following symptoms:
- Weight gain
- Fatigue and weakness
- Hair loss or dry hair
- Cold intolerance
- Muscle cramps
- Irritability and depression
- Memory loss
- Slower heart rate
- High cholesterol levels
Graves’ disease is the leading cause of hyperthyroidism in the U.S. and is an autoimmune disease. But unlike hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism leads to overactivity of the thyroid gland, increases metabolic rates, and can lead to these symptoms:
- Weight loss, particularly unintentional
- Heat intolerance
- Anxiousness and irritability
- Thyroid gland enlargement, also known as a goiter
- Sleep disturbances
- Frequent bowel movements
In thyroiditis, the body’s own immune system attacks the thyroid and causes inflammation. Thyroiditis includes a group of individual disorders causing inflammation but presents in different ways, including Hashimoto’s disease and postpartum thyroiditis.
Postpartum thyroiditis causes temporary high levels of the thyroid hormone in the blood followed by hypothyroidism. In fact, there are also no symptoms of thyroiditis, but rather indicators associated to hypothyroidism.
Postpartum thyroiditis affects 10 percent of women and a personal or family history and viral hepatitis increases the risk of the thyroid condition.
Thyroid cancer happens when cancer cells form from the tissues of the thyroid gland.
According the Most people with thyroid cancer have a thyroid nodule that does not cause any symptoms, though they may notice a swelling or a lump in your neck, which may cause problems swallowing or a hoarse voice.
Nearly 3 out of 4 cases of thyroid cancer are found in women, as about 53,990 new cases of thyroid cancer (40,900 in women, and 13,090 in men) occurred in 2018 according to the American Cancer Society.
Thyroid Problems in Women
Along with the overarching symptoms of the specific condition, women can experience the following problems:
Alterations in the production of thyroid hormones can increase the risk of menstrual irregularities, including making periods very light or heavy.
Thyroid disease can also cause periods to stop for months at a time, a condition known as amenorrhea, and potentially even lead to premature menopause before the age of 40.
With thyroid disease affecting ovulation and menstrual cycles, it also increases the risk of infertility and makes it harder to get pregnant.
Thyroid problems during pregnancy can cause health problems for the mother and the baby. Pregnancy-related hormones raise the level of thyroid hormones in the blood. Thyroid hormones are necessary for the baby’s brain development while in the womb.
It really is not so uncommon for thyroid diseases to be misdiagnosed or undiagnosed altogether. In fact, most doctors disregard testing for thyroid disease since its symptoms often mimic ones of several other health conditions.
However, it is important to disclose all details and advocate for appropriate screenings and tests. The doctor may then order further tests, including a blood test, radioactive iodine uptake test, and potentially a scan, ultrasound, or biopsy of the thyroid.
Following a diagnosis, a primary care provider can help tailor a personalized plan to help meet individualized needs. Although dependent on the type of diagnosed thyroid condition, medication and lifestyle factors are often the primary treatment methods.
Ultimately, treatment is ongoing and requires careful monitoring from a healthcare professional. Being proactive when it comes to a thyroid condition helps mitigate the consequences of too much or too little thyroid hormone and prosper women’s health and wellbeing.