Thyroid problems in women are common enough that getting a thyroid blood test with your yearly physical should be standard procedure for women. Thyroid disease also affects women much more often than men. However, not all doctors include this blood test as part of a women's yearly physical exam. If you are concerned about your thyroid, ask your doctor for a thyroid blood test.t
What the Thyroid Gland Does
This small gland at the base of the Adam's apple controls many major functions of the body including weight control, heart rhythm, blood pressure, and metabolism. The thyroid controls all of these functions with the release of hormones, such as T4 (thyroxine) and T3 (triiodothyronine).
Types of Thyroid Problems in Women
There are two general conditions that develop, but each can be caused by a number of diseases; hypothyroidism (low thyroid) and hyperthyroidism (high thyroid). Hypothyroidism occurs when the gland does not produce enough hormones. With hyperthyroidism the thyroid is overactive and produces too much hormone.
Grave's disease is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism. This is an autoimmune disorder where the body produces antibodies that over stimulate the thyroid. Autoimmune disorders, such as with Hashimoto's disease, can also result in hypothyroidism. Some other causes of hypothyroidism include a congenital abnormality, viral infection, pituitary gland tumor, thyroid tumor, and certain medications.
The causes of thyroid problems can vary but many of the symptoms are similar. Both conditions can cause hair loss, heart arrhythmias, menstrual irregularities, irritability, muscle weakness or soreness, and feeling like you have a lump or pain in your throat because of an enlarged thyroid.
With hyperthyroid, women may develop inflammation around the eyes giving a bulging eye appearance, have blurred or double vision, have unexplained weight loss, trembling hands, and experience an increase in bowel movements. Low thyroid symptoms include weight gain, constipation, and depression.
Essentially with high thyroid levels, the body functions are sped up and you can feel like you may constantly feel like you have had way too much caffeine. With low thyroid, the body functions slow down and you may feel exhausted and out of energy no matter how much sleep you get.
Infertility and Thyroid Problems in Women
It's commonly known that thyroid problems can cause women to have irregular, or no menstrual cycles leading to problems getting pregnant. However, having a thyroid condition does not mean that you cannot have children. Even women who have had their thyroid removed or treated with radioactive iodine and now have a completely inactive thyroid gland, can go on to have healthy pregnancies and children if monitored regularly by a doctor and treatment is followed by the patient. With proper diagnosis and treatment, most women with thyroid conditions can go on to conceive naturally and have healthy babies without concern.
Thyroid Problems and Pregnancy
Poor thyroid function, whether overactive or underactive, can cause serious problems for both mom and baby if left untreated during a pregnancy. Thyroid problems in pregnancy can cause premature delivery, put women at a higher risk for miscarriage, and result in mild cognitive or physical disabilities for the baby. After pregnancy, women with thyroid problems may experience problems with breastfeeding such as not making enough milk and thyroiditis.
Having a thyroid condition does not however have to be a serious health concern during pregnancy for mom or the baby if the condition is monitored and treated before, during, and after pregnancy. However, you do have to know that maintaining a proper TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) level during and after pregnancy more can be more difficult than under normal circumstances and closer monitoring is needed. To help with this, if you have a confirmed thyroid condition, you should have regular blood tests every few weeks during pregnancy and continue this until your baby is about 3 to 6 months old, or longer if needed. This allows you and your doctor to adjust your medication when necessary to ensure you and your baby remain in good health.
In addition, even if you do not have a history of thyroid problems, but have a family history of thyroid disease you should be tested before and during pregnancy. If you have a family history of thyroid problems, you are at higher risk for developing a thyroid condition during pregnancy reports the American Thyroid Association.
The thyroid blood test is the most common diagnostic test. This measures the TSH and other thyroid produced hormones in the blood. It can also detect thyroid antibodies. The blood test results will give you and your doctor important information as to how your thyroid is function and what may be the cause. If you have abnormal blood test results then your doctor may prescribe medication or schedule you for further testing.
Others tests can include an ultrasound, thyroid scan, and biopsy. The ultrasound is exactly as it sounds. An ultrasound technician runs a wand over your neck to view the thyroid to see its' size and if any nodules or tumors are growing on or around the gland. With a thyroid scan you'll ingest or get an injection of radioactive iodine and have your throat scanned by a large machine that will take pictures of your thyroid. These pictures will show how much of the radioactive iodine is taken up by the thyroid giving a clearer picture of the thyroid's function overall. Your doctor may order a biopsy if the ultrasound or scan shows an abnormal growth on or near the thyroid.
With all of the causes, symptoms, and tests, it can make the diagnosis of a thyroid condition sound dire. But you don't have to fear the diagnosis. Most thyroid problems are easily treated. In the case of hypothyroidism, patients only need to take a pescription thyroid hormone replacement medication, usually once a day. And with proper treatment, which is best done with the help of a endocrinologist (a doctor that specializes in the endocrine system), most women will be able to live a normal and healthy life. Do however, take the time to research and understand your specific condition, test results, and treatment options. To live a healthy life despite a thyroid condition does mean that you have to be an active participant in guiding your care with your endocrinologist.