While thyroid problems can affect anyone, they are more common in women than in men. The symptoms of thyroid disorders in women often appear after menopause or after a pregnancy. Because thyroid hormone plays an essential role throughout the body, especially in metabolism, an imbalance can cause a variety of symptoms. The thyroid gland plays a role in regulating a woman’s menstrual cycle and in providing a baby with thyroid hormone up until 12 weeks of pregnancy. That is why thyroid problems in women can sometimes lead to unique problems that are not experienced by men with the same condition.
Types of Thyroid Problems in Women
There are two main types of thyroid disorders in women: hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism. Hypothyroidism is when too little thyroid hormone is produced. Hyperthyroidism is when thyroid hormone is overproduced. Both types of thyroid hormone imbalance are most often caused by autoimmune disorders.
In the United States, hypothyroidism is often caused by Hashimoto’s disease. That is because in the U.S., diets are high enough in iodine to prevent widespread hypothyroidism. Hashimoto’s disease is when the body’s immune system attacks the thyroid gland, which damages it and prevents it from producing sufficient hormones. Hyperthyroidism on the other hand is often caused by Graves’ disease. This disease causes the immune system to signal the thyroid gland to produce an overabundance of hormones.
The two types of thyroid imbalance can cause different symptoms. Because of how many bodily systems the thyroid hormone affects, these symptoms can vary between individuals. Here are just some of the possible symptoms of hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.
|weight gain||weight loss|
|muscle weakness||muscle weakness|
|increased menstrual bleeding||less menstrual bleeding or fewer periods|
|feeling cold when other do not||feeling hot when others do not|
|slow heart rate||rapid heartbeat|
|decreased sweating||increased sweating|
|hoarseness in the throat||insomnia|
|dry skin that looks pale||trembling in hands|
Thyroid Disorders and Pregnancy
There are several problems that can occur during pregnancy if a woman has a thyroid condition. During pregnancy it is difficult to accurately assess a woman’s thyroid hormone levels. This is because pregnancy-related hormones cause significant fluctuations in the production of other hormones. The production of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) and estrogen during pregnancy will alter a woman’s thyroid hormone levels. Usually if a woman thinks she has a thyroid condition, she should tell her doctor prior to getting pregnant if possible.
During the first few months of pregnancy, the fetus is dependent on the mother for its hormones. It is not until after 12 weeks of pregnancy that the baby begins to produce thyroid hormone on its own. That is why it is important for women who have thyroid conditions to work with their doctor during pregnancy on how to best manage hormone imbalances. Hashimoto’s and Graves’ disease are the two most common causes of thyroid problems during pregnancy, and can often be managed successfully prior to becoming pregnant.
Some of the problems that can occur during pregnancy with women who have hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism are premature birth or low birth weight, preeclampsia, or miscarriage. Women may also experience a sudden worsening in their hypothyroidism symptoms during pregnancy.
Postpartum thyroiditis is an inflammation of the thyroid gland after pregnancy that occurs in about 5-10% of women. This risk can be higher in women who have pre-existing thyroid conditions. In most cases postpartum thyroiditis leads to two stages that occur in the first year after pregnancy. Patients may have both phases or only one phase.
The first is a thyrotoxic phase where symptoms like anxiety, weight loss, and fatigue may present. This can last up to four months after delivery. The next phase is a hypothyroid phase, which includes similar symptoms to hypothyroidism from other causes. This can last from 4-8 months after delivery or longer. Most women will see a reduction in symptoms after one year, but about 1 out 5 will continue to have hypothyroidism.
Thyroid hormone replacement may be used to treat hypothyroid women post-partum but not those experiencing the thyrotoxic phase. During this phase the thyroid gland is not producing excessive amounts of hormone, it is just experiencing inflammation. Other medications may be prescribed during the first phase to reduce anxiety, heart palpitations, and other symptoms.
Types of Thyroid Medication
RLC Labs is the maker of both WP Thyroid and Nature Throid. These thyroid medications both contain natural desiccated thyroid but with different additives. Natural desiccated thyroid has been preferred by many doctors and patients because it contains all types of thyroid hormone including T1, T2, T3, and T4. This more closely mimics the body’s actual production of thyroid hormone. This type of thyroid medication can also be made in custom strengths by a compounding pharmacy. The raw material for desiccated thyroid is prepared from the glands of pigs, and is sometimes contrasted with synthetic thyroid hormone like levothyroxine and liothyronine.
Levothyroxine is a synthetic version of the T4 thyroid hormone. This synthetic drug has been manufactured for almost 100 years and is one of the most widely prescribed medicines in the United States. This synthetic thyroid hormone works for many patients. However, some patients find that it does not relieve all of their symptoms. Others find that some of the additives or fillers in different brands cause undesirable reactions due to chemical sensitivities they have.
Thyroid Medication Interactions During Pregnancy
At the appropriate doses, thyroid hormone is safe to take during pregnancy as it is similar to the hormones naturally produced in a woman’s body. It is important to note however that prenatal vitamins may interact negatively with thyroid hormone supplementation. The iron and calcium in prenatal vitamins can prevent the thyroid hormone from being absorbed properly. If a woman is pregnant and is prescribed a thyroid medication, usually it is recommended that they be taken them at least a few hours apart.
Talk to Your Doctor
Whichever thyroid medication a woman chooses to use, careful monitoring by a doctor is necessary to ensure proper dosages are maintained. Most thyroid replacement medications for managing thyroid problems for women are safe during pregnancy, but you should always consult with your doctor first. Any adverse reactions from thyroid medication should immediately be reported to your doctor.