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Thyroid Disease and Your Health

The thyroid is a small gland at the base of the throat that produces T3 and T4 hormones that travel through the bloodstream and control various body activities that comprise your metabolism. Your metabolism determines how fast you burn calories and how fast your heart beats. The hormones produced by your thyroid ensure that your metabolism is working at a healthy rate that is neither too fast, nor too slow.

Thyroid Disease and Your Health

Hyperthyroidism

Thyroid disorders are more common among women than men, and these disorders can cause a variety of symptoms and problems. In some cases, the thyroid produces more hormones that the body needs and this is call hyperthyroidism. The most common cause of this condition is Grave’s disease, which is an autoimmune disorder that causes the body’s defense system to over stimulate the thyroid and speed up the metabolism.

A speeded up metabolism can cause a variety of symptoms that may begin slowly and worsen over time. These can include weight loss, eating more than usual, irritability, trouble sleeping, trembling in your hands and fingers, muscle weakness and less frequent or lighter than normal periods, among others. Hyperthyroidism can also cause brittle bones.

Hypothyroidism

The opposite of hyperthyroidism is hypothyroidism, which is when your thyroid doesn’t produce enough hormones. The most common cause of this condition in the U.S. is Hashimoto’s disease, another autoimmune disease. In this case, the disease causes the immune system to mistakenly attack the body and slow down the metabolism. Some of the symptoms of hypothyroidism are the same as hyperthyroidism, such as muscle weakness, increased sensitivity to cold, and constipation. Different symptoms may include depression, fatigue, a puffy face with pale, dry skin, hoarseness, and heavy menstrual bleeding. Additionally, women with hypothyroidism may see spikes in their levels of LDL, or so called “bad” cholesterol, which can lead to heart disease.

Postpartum Thyroiditis

There is one condition, known as postpartum thyroiditis that occurs in 5-10% of women in the U.S. Often this condition manifests in two separate stages. In the first phase, which generally occurs one to four months after delivery, the thyroid dumps excessive hormones into the blood stream and causes symptoms of hyperthyroidism. During the second phase, which usually begins four to eight months after delivery, the situation reverses and causes symptoms of hypothyroidism because the thyroid has lost most of its hormones. In most cases of postpartum thyroiditis, a woman’s thyroid function will return to normal within 18 months after the symptoms begin.

Both hyper and hypothyroidism can make becoming pregnant more difficult, as well as impact the health of both the mother and child during pregnancy. Thyroid hormones are very important in the development of the brain and nervous system of a fetus during the first trimester of a pregnancy. At twelve weeks, the baby’s thyroid takes over and begins to function on its own. Maternal thyroid disease can impact a baby’s brain development and birth weight, and, in some instances, can lead to a stillbirth.

There are many other thyroid conditions that a woman can develop and, depending on the disease, there are a variety of treatments available. If you are pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant, or if you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above or have a history of thyroid problems in your family, ask your AOA doctor about getting a thyroid test. Screening can help you determine if you have a thyroid disease, what kind of it may be, and recommend the best course of treatment.

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