The link between your thyroid and women’s health
Thyroid conditions are much more common in women than men. The American Thyroid Association says 1 in 8 women will develop a thyroid condition at some point in her life. Because thyroid conditions cause a wide range of symptoms, women may attribute their concerns to something else. As a result, thyroid conditions often go undiagnosed.
Whether you know you have a thyroid imbalance or not, it can have numerous effects on your health. Find out more about the link between your thyroid and women’s health and the warning signs that you might need to get checked.
What your thyroid does
Your thyroid is a small gland in your neck that’s a part of your endocrine system. It releases hormones into your bloodstream that help organs like the brain, muscles, and heart run as they should. The hormones produced by the thyroid affect many of your body’s functions, including your metabolism, body temperature, and growth and development.
Hyperthyroidism versus hypothyroidism
With thyroid conditions, your thyroid doesn’t produce the right level of hormones. This can be caused by many different factors. When your thyroid hormones are low, it’s known as hypothyroidism or an underactive thyroid. When your thyroid produces too much, it’s called hyperthyroidism or an overactive thyroid.
According to the Office on Women’s Health, signs of an underactive thyroid may include:
- Less sweating or often feeling cold
- Feeling tired, sad, weak, or depressed
- Weight gain
- Slower heart rate
- Dry skin or dry, thinning hair
Signs of an overactive thyroid can include:
- More sweating or often feeling hot
- Feeling irritable, anxious, weak, or restless
- Weight loss
- Fast heart rate or irregular heartbeat
- Changes in your eyes, such as redness or bulging
Thyroid symptoms specific to women’s health
In addition to the signs seen in both men and women, both overactive and underactive thyroid affect women in additional ways. These include:
- Changes in your period – There’s a link between your thyroid and your monthly period. If your thyroid is producing too much, you may have lighter periods. In some cases, your period could stop completely. If you have an underactive thyroid, your periods may become very heavy.
- Infertility – Because thyroid issues disrupt your menstrual cycle—and sometimes ovulation, they affect conception too. A thyroid condition may make it harder for you to get pregnant.
- Pregnancy - During pregnancy, the March of Dimes says an uncontrolled thyroid condition can put you at risk for conditions like anemia or high blood pressure. Some women also develop a condition called postpartum thyroiditis. This causes swelling in the thyroid after giving birth.
- Menopause – Menopause and thyroid conditions cause similar symptoms. It can be hard for women to tell the difference. The North American Menopause Society says it’s important to talk with your doctor to distinguish between the two. If you have a previous thyroid-related diagnosis, it’s also important to talk about how your thyroid may affect menopause symptoms and treatment.
Detecting thyroid disease
While routine thyroid screenings aren’t typically recommended, if you’re having symptoms, it’s worth a visit with your doctor. A simple blood test can check the levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone in your blood.
If your symptoms are affecting your period or other women’s health concerns, your OB GYN may run tests. If you have other symptoms, your primary care doctor can help decide the best next steps. With the correct diagnosis, you can work with your doctor to control your thyroid condition—and care for both your health as a woman and your health as a whole.