Thyroid in Women: Everything You Need To Know
My diagnosis of a thyroid disorder in my mid-20s was a watershed moment in my life. As I delved deeper into my research, I learned that thyroid issues are one of the leading hormonal disorders in women. In fact, recent studies indicate that one in eight American women will encounter an endocrine issue during her lifetime. It was both comforting and alarming to discover that many of us share this health challenge.
If you are one of these women, it is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of thyroid problems so that you can get treatment as soon as possible.
Here, I aim to go beyond just sharing clinical data. I will delve into my own journey with thyroid disorders, from the bewildering early symptoms I experienced to my extensive search for effective treatment options. By combining medical research with my personal narrative, I hope to offer a unique perspective that many traditional resources might miss.
When our endocrine system malfunctions, the ripple effects are felt throughout our entire body. Take hyperthyroidism, for instance: it’s when the body goes into overdrive, producing an excess of thyroid hormones. Conversely, with hypothyroidism, our system lags, producing fewer hormones than needed. Both conditions are intricate, necessitating expert medical intervention.
What is the thyroid?
What is the thyroid, you ask? The day I was diagnosed, my doctor painted a vivid picture of the thyroid—a small, butterfly-shaped organ situated close to the windpipe. Despite its delicate appearance, I was amazed to learn from various medical journals how this tiny organ could dramatically shape our overall health.
Our body is a complex network of glands, each with its own function. Among these, the thyroid stands out, producing crucial hormones that regulate numerous vital functions in our body, from metabolism to temperature control.
It’s vital to clarify the distinction between the lymphatic and endocrine systems. While they both play critical roles in our body, thyroid disorders specifically pertain to the endocrine system and are not related to lymph glands. Alarmingly, data suggests that roughly one in eight women will confront thyroid issues during their lifetime. Imbalances can lead to:
- Problems with your menstrual period. Your menstrual cycle is controlled in part by your pituitary gland. If you have too much or too little hormone, your periods can be very light, heavy, or strange at times. If you suffer from this illness, your periods may stop for a few months or even longer.
This is called amenorrhea. If your immune system causes the disease, it may also affect other glands, such as your ovaries. This can cause menopause to come early (before age 40).
- Problems getting pregnant. When an endocrine gland disease impacts a woman’s menstrual cycle, it also impacts the ovulation phase of the cycle. Because of this, it may be more difficult for you to become pregnant.
- Problems during pregnancy. Having thyroid issues while pregnant might put the mother and the unborn child at risk for developing health complications.
- I’ve heard many friends brush off their fatigue or mood swings as early signs of menopause. It’s what I believed too, before my diagnosis. But it’s crucial to understand that symptoms of thyroid disorders can often mirror those of menopause. In fact, post-menopause, the likelihood of developing conditions like hypothyroidism increases.
An underactive thyroid, also known as hypothyroidism, is a condition that occurs when the gland does not produce enough hormones.. This can cause various symptoms, including weight gain, fatigue, dry skin and hair loss.
Treatment typically involves taking medications to replace the missing hormones and manage the underlying autoimmune disorder. With proper care and treatment, most people suffering from it can manage their symptoms and live healthy, everyday lives.
What is an overactive thyroid in women?
Throughout my personal voyage navigating thyroid health, I’ve gleaned deeper insights into hyperthyroidism. This condition, often termed an ‘overactive thyroid,’ emerges when our thyroid gland releases hormones in overabundance. The result? A metabolism that’s racing and a plethora of associated symptoms. Excess levels of hormones can lead to increased metabolism and a range of other symptoms, including nervousness and anxiety.
Navigating my own thyroid health, I’ve found that while the exact causes of hyperthyroidism aren’t always clear-cut, many professionals attribute it to a range of factors. These can include certain medications, prominent conditions like Graves’ disease, other autoimmune disorders, or even lifestyle elements such as dietary choices and chronic stress.
Fortunately, this condition is usually treatable with medication, dietary changes, and lifestyle modifications. Surgery (Thyroidectomy) may also be an option for people with more severe symptoms that do not respond well to these treatments. Overall, managing an overactive gland is often just a matter of making healthy lifestyle choices and getting proper medical care when necessary.
What causes thyroid problems in women?
Through years of grappling with my own thyroid challenges and connecting with others on a similar journey, I’ve observed that the two most prevalent thyroid conditions women grapple with are hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.
- Thyroiditis: This is an inflammation of the thyroid gland, which makes it swell up. The amount of hormones can decrease if you have thyroiditis.
- Postpartum thyroiditis: After giving birth, 5% to 9% of women have this condition. It’s usually a short-term problem.
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis: Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s cells attack and damage the organ. It is not painful. This is a disease that runs in families.
- Iodine deficiency: Hormones are made by the thyroid, which needs iodine to do its job. Several million people around the world have too little iodine in their bodies.
- A non-functioning gland: Some people are born with a endocrine gland that doesn’t work right. About 1 in 4,000 babies is born with this. If the child isn’t taken care of, they could have physical and mental problems in the future. All babies get a blood test in the hospital to check how well their thyroids are working.
- On rare occasions, hypothyroidism can be a result of secondary factors like the pituitary gland not producing enough Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH). This can be due to issues like a benign tumor in the pituitary gland, a condition I learned about during one of my medical consultations.
Hyperthyroidism can be caused by the following:
- Graves’ disease: In this case, the thyroid gland might be overactive and make too much hormone. This is also known as diffuse toxic goiter (enlarged endocrine gland).
- Thyroiditis: This disorder can hurt or make no difference at all. When a woman has thyroiditis, the endocrine lets out hormones that it has been storing. This could last a few weeks or a few months.
- Nodules: Nodules in the endocrine that work too much can cause hyperthyroidism. A toxic autonomously functioning thyroid nodule is the name for a single nodule, while toxic multinodular goiter is the name for a gland with more than one nodule.
- Excessive iodine: When there is too much of the mineral iodine in the body, which is needed to make enough hormones, the butterfly-shaped organ produces more hormones than it needs. Some medicines, like the heart medicine amiodarone and cough syrups, have too much iodine.
You may be at a higher risk of developing thyroid disease
if you have a family history of thyroid disease.
Thyroid Problems in Women
Older women with hypothyroidism may experience several different symptoms that can affect their quality of life. These symptoms may include fatigue, weight gain, difficulty concentrating or thinking clearly, and changes in mood or behavior.
Additionally, some women may experience sexual problems such as loss of libido or difficulties with sexual performance.
Overall, endocrine problems are a common concern for older women and can significantly impact their overall well-being. If you suspect that you may be experiencing symptoms of hypothyroidism, it is important to seek medical attention immediately to receive an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment. With the proper care and support, older women with hypothyroidism can live healthy and fulfilling lives.
Thyroid problems are common in younger females and can affect many aspects of their lives, including their energy levels and weight. These issues can also impact a woman’s sex life and sexual performance, as they may lead to a decreased libido and reduced sexual responsiveness.
There are many possible causes of thyroid problems in younger women, including conditions such as hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s disease. These conditions can result in imbalances in hormones within the body, which can cause various symptoms.
Some of the most common symptoms associated with thyroid disorders in young females include fatigue, weight gain, slowed metabolism, changes in mood or behavior, brain fog, depression or anxiety, hair loss or changes in skin quality, changes in menstrual cycles or fertility levels, and muscle aches or joint pain.
Thyroid Symptoms in Women
The symptoms of thyroid disease in women can vary depending on the type of thyroid problem that you have.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism (under-active thyroid) in women
The signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism in females vary depending on how bad the hormone deficiency is. Symptoms tend to come on slowly, so you might not realize you have had a problem for a few years.
Common symptoms of hypothyroidism in females include:
- Being sensitive to the cold
- Gaining weight
- Having constipation
- Feeling sad
- Slow thoughts and moves
- Pain and weakness in the muscles
- Muscle cramps
- Scaly and dry skin
- Weak hair and nails
- Lack of desire (sex drive)
- Pain, tingling, and numbness in hand and fingers (carpal tunnel syndrome)
- Irregular periods or heavy ones
Samantha Clarke, a 55-year-old Registered Endocrinology Nurse with over 20 years of professional experience, has been at the forefront of thyroid health management. After being diagnosed with thyroid complications herself in her twenties, she dove deep into both clinical studies and practical applications of treatments, gaining hands-on expertise. Leveraging her dual perspective of a patient and a medical professional, she founded the acclaimed blog, “Thyroid in Women.” Her platform not only illuminates the nuances of different thyroid conditions but also translates evidence-based medical findings into actionable advice. Samantha’s strength lies in her ability to meld personal anecdotes with scientific insights, making her a trusted voice in the thyroid health domain. Committed to both her patients and readers, she endeavors to bridge the gap between medical jargon and real-world understanding, ensuring everyone has the knowledge and tools to navigate their thyroid conditions.