Thyroid and Women Health
The thyroid is a small butterfly shaped gland that covers the front of the windpipe and is present beside the Adam’s apple. The basic function of the thyroid gland is releasing the thyroid hormone: responsible for regulating the metabolism, energy and growth of (in essence) every part of the body. The thyroid gland is responsible for the secretion of certain hormones like Thyroxine(T4), Triiodothyronine (T3) and Calcitonin. The thyroid gland releases hormones but does so on the instructions of the pituitary gland which is placed in the middle of the head. The pituitary gland monitors the body’s physiological being and accordingly releases TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone), the TSH is basically the signal to the thyroid gland for releasing thyroid hormones. Thyroid issues arise when there is miscommunication between the TSH and thyroid gland. Sometimes the TSH levels will be increased but the thyroid gland won’t be able to release more thyroid hormones; this condition is called primary hypothyroidism. In other circumstances, TSH levels will decrease but the thyroid gland will not take note and will not release more thyroid hormones; this is called secondary hypothyroidism.
Thyroid problems arise when there is either too much or too little of the thyroid hormone. Low thyroid levels are referred to as Hypothyroidism wherein metabolism and the ability to recover and repair (of the body) are low and here the body functions are reduced. Hyperthyroidism is overactive thyroid which means your body will produce more thyroid than needed, this speeds up things like heart rate and metabolism. Thyroid problems are fairly common in the world with about 12% of all people experiencing thyroid issues, women are eight times more likely to develop thyroid disorders than men and even more so immediately after pregnancy or menopause. These issues increase with age and can affect young and old people differently.
This article will explain how thyroid affects women and their health. As mentioned above, thyroid will affect women differently depending on their age but certainly thyroid disorders do disrupt a woman’s reproductive system.
Effects in puberty/menstruation: Thyroid disorders can lead to both puberty and menstruation to occur either earlier (precocious puberty) or later (delayed puberty) than normally expected. In addition to this, extremely high or low thyroid hormone levels can cause very heavy (menorrhagia) or very light menstruation in periods (oligomenorrhoea/hypomenorrhoea), irregular and erratic menstrual cycles and at times even absent (that do not occur) periods which might last for months, this is a condition called amenorrhea. If a woman develops thyroid trouble at a young age, chances are she’ll have to deal with them for the rest of her life if it is not properly treated.
Reproductive Age/ Reproduction: Ovulation (releasing of eggs by ovaries for insemination and fertilisation) can be majorly affected by overactive or underactive thyroid disorders. In some cases, these disorders may cause erratic ovulation or stop ovulation from occurring altogether leading to infertility that is inability to conceive a baby. Even if a female conceives and has these thyroid disorders, there are higher chances of recurrent abortions. On top of this, ovaries are at a higher risk of developing cysts in case a woman is suffering from low or underactive thyroid (Hypothyroidism), this also increases the chances of developing Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) /Disorder (PCOD). In some extremely severe cases of hypothyroidism, the nipples will produce and secrete milk (galactorrhoea) even though female is not pregnant.
Pregnancy and Postpartum: Thyroid disorders during pregnancy (and at times before as well) can negatively affect or harm the baby and can lead to the mother developing long lasting thyroid troubles like postpartum thyroid after giving birth. Hypothyroidism and thyroid deficiency can lead to miscarriages, premature or preterm deliveries, stillbirths and postpartum haemorrhaging. Women who suffer from high or overactive thyroid disorders will more likely experience severe bouts of morning sickness. If a female has thyroid problem and is not treated well, it can lead to mental problems like decreased intelligence quotient (IQ) or in severe cases mental retardation in the baby. These pregnancy troubles and issues can be carefully considered by your doctor who can chart out a tailor-made course of action prior to getting pregnant in order to ensure the safest outcome for both the mother and child.
Menopause: Thyroid disorders can lead to an early onset of menopause in women (ranging between the age of forty or during the forties). Hyperthyroidism or overactive thyroid can lead to some symptoms associated generally with menopause as well. For example; a lack of menstruation, hot flashes, insomnia (inability to sleep) and severe mood swings. Hyperthyroidism treatment if received early can help relieve a lot of symptoms that women would otherwise experience after menopause and can also prevent early menopause from taking place altogether. If one experiences menopausal symptoms in an early age, one should definitely get a thyroid test done.
Metabolic problems: A hypothyroid patient can develop low metabolic rate leading to dyslipidemia (deranged blood cholesterol) and later in long term cardiovascular problems like heart attacks and decreased functioning of heart (heart failure) if not treated well. Hyperthyroid patient can develop increased metabolism leading to decreased muscle mass, anaemia, heart failure and weak bones (osteoporosis) leading to recurrent fractures even with minimal trauma.
Apart from the above-mentioned problems, other symptoms are:
Hypothyroidism (underactive): Feeling Tired all the time as thyroid hormone is insufficient and causes fatigue. Gaining weight unexpectedly as metabolism is weak. Feeling cold as heat will not be produced as calories will not be burnt. Muscle and joint aches. Hair loss. Itchy dry skin. All these symptoms are more important if your family member already has thyroid problem.
Hyperthyroidism (overactive): In this, you will have increased heart rate (palpitations), uneasiness (gabhrahat), weight loss even with good appetite, breathlessness on walking or exertion, hair fall, increased sweating, persistent diarrhoea (loose stools).
Go see a doctor if you experience any of these.
Dr. Abhilasha Jain
Diabetes & Endocrinology