The thyroid – a tiny organ with a huge impact on our metabolic health. Thyroid disease is fairly common. It also tends to affect women more than men – 1 in 8 women have a thyroid disorder. In addition, it often shows up during perimenopause and menopause.
In this article, we’ll explore what the thyroid does, its associated disorders, how it affects women, and how to get help if you think you’re affected.
The thyroid gland is a very small, spongy light gland. It’s located below your Adam’s apple, up against your trachea. Because it’s so thin, it’s difficult to feel.
For such a small organ, the thyroid has a huge impact on your body, affecting every cell within it. The hormones in our thyroid are responsible for how our metabolism functions, body temperature, heart rate, and protein production.
Hypothyroidism is when your thyroid gland is underactive – your body is not producing enough thyroid hormone to run your metabolism efficiently. The most common symptoms of hyperthyroidism are dry skin, gaining weight, depression, constipation, and hair loss.
Common causes of hypothyroidism include Hashimoto’s disease (an autoimmune disorder), radiation therapy, thyroiditis – thyroid inflammation due to an infection – and medication.
Hyperthyroidism is when your immune system attacks your thyroid, stimulating it to work harder. This results in an increased metabolism, heart palpitations, and at times, high blood pressure. These changes can cause diarrhea, anxiety, insomnia, sweating, and weight loss.
Causes of hyperthyroidism include Graves disease, overactive thyroid nodules, and thyroiditis.
What symptoms should I look for?
Appearance: Is there a lump or bulge in your neck? This could be an enlarged thyroid or goiter.
Sore throat. This could include a strange sensation when you swallow, which could indicate thyroid inflammation.
Changes in test results. An increase in any of these for the first time could indicate changes in thyroid function:
- Blood pressure
- Blood sugars
Here are the risk factors for developing thyroid problems:
Age. People over 40 are more likely to develop thyroid disorders. It’s important to start checking your thyroid function around age 45.
Gender. Women are more likely than men to have problems with their thyroid.
Body size. People who are overweight are more likely to develop thyroid issues. Fat cells are like factories that produce inflammatory molecules, which increases inflammation in the body. Inflammation means that white blood cells are moving around, looking for something to attack– which for some reason ends up being the thyroid.
Family history. If your mother or sister has problems with their thyroid, you’re more likely to as well.
Because the thyroid gland affects every organ in your body, this also includes your reproductive system organs. So if you start having irregular or skipped periods, you may want to have your thyroid tested.
A malfunctioning thyroid can also affect women’s ability to conceive, as it affects ovary production. So if infertility is an issue for you, it’s worth having your thyroid checked out.
Finally, thyroid issues can continue into pregnancy and beyond. So if you notice that lump in your neck or other symptoms mentioned earlier, be sure to consult with your ObGyn about a possible thyroid concern.
Problems with the thyroid can often start to occur during perimenopause and menopause – and they can mimic some of the symptoms of these stages as well. So again, it’s recommended to begin checking your thyroid regularly during your 40s.
Treatment for hypothyroidism is the thyroid hormone medicine levothyroxine. It’s important to have your TSH levels checked regularly to make sure the dosage of your medication is correct or to adjust it as needed.
If you think you may have a thyroid disorder, consult with your primary healthcare provider so they can provide you with the appropriate tests and treatment options.
FemmePharma has been helping women navigate menopause for over two decades. No matter where you are in your journey, you deserve to have knowledgeable, intimate healthcare partners to help you feel your best. Explore our other articles, podcast episodes with women’s health experts, and products to ease your transition into menopause.