Your thyroid controls many hormones being released around your body, including the control of your metabolism. When your thyroid starts to act irregularly, you can see several side effects. The exact symptoms will depend on the way your thyroid as started to act.
Hypothyroidism is also known as an underactive thyroid. This is when the thyroid doesn’t release enough hormones, leading to your metabolism slowing down. While men can suffer from the condition, it’s more likely to affect women. In fact, around six women for every one man suffer from hypothyroidism.
Here’s a look at everything you need to know about the condition in women. You’ll be able to look out for symptoms, know when to see your doctor and find out about the treatments for it.
What Exactly Is Hypothyroidism?
An underactive thyroid is an autoimmune condition. This means your immune system is attacking something natural and normal in your body, and in this cause your thyroid gland. The body believes the thyroid is dangerous and attacking it will cause the thyroid to slow down production.
Because it’s an autoimmune condition, there are no cures. That doesn’t mean you have to suffer for the rest of your life. There are medications that will help to control the number of hormones being released, helping to minimize the symptoms of the condition.
The condition affects more than just your metabolism. The thyroid pumps out thyroxine and triiodothyronine. These both help to manage your weight, your brain activity, your skin, your bones, and your fertility. Women who experience hypothyroidism can find that they become forgetful or struggle to concentrate. They can also have issues with their heart rate or struggle to get pregnant.
It is more likely to affect women than men and this is linked to the amount of estrogen in the body and the way the body changes during and after pregnancy. A woman’s immune system works differently to a man’s. It needs to set up a new defense system during pregnancy to protect the growing baby. In some cases, the body believes that the baby is a threat to the system, which can lead to an increase in the system working.
Many women will be diagnosed with the condition after pregnancy because of this. The thyroid worked perfectly before this point.
The Development of Hypothyroidism After Hyperthyroidism
If your thyroid gland is overactive, you’ll have what’s referred to as hyperthyroidism. While this can be managed with medication, some people will have their gland removed. This will lead to hypothyroidism later in life. You will need to take medications to help manage the condition when you get older.
Other people will develop hypothyroidism because of other health problems. Various autoimmune conditions can put extra strain on your thyroid and affect its ability to work properly.
Why Do People Get Hypothyroidism?
There is nothing you’ve done to cause your underactive thyroid. This is something that affects women of all ages, although those who have had babies are more likely to see the development. This is, as mentioned, due to the way the body reacts to the baby and the immune system kicks up its activity and starts attacking the healthy parts of your body.
Doctors have found there is a genetic link. Those who have close family members with hypothyroidism are more likely to develop the condition. However, this doesn’t mean you’ll develop it. Nor does it mean only those with the familial connection will develop it.
Those who have had certain illnesses or health problems are more likely to develop an underactive thyroid. As mentioned, those with hyperthyroidism in early life are more likely to see their thyroid underactive later in life. This is especially the case if you have your thyroid gland removed. Some autoimmune disorders can also lead to hypothyroidism, as the hormone production is disrupted, and the immune system goes into overdrive.
The Symptoms of Hypothyroidism
You’ve likely heard of weight gain as one of the symptoms. While this is the case, it’s not usually the first sign. This is just the most discussed sign. There are many other symptoms that you will notice beforehand. The problem is many of the symptoms can be linked to many other conditions, which can make it harder to diagnose an underactive thyroid.
Dry skin and hair are two signs that you’ll see relatively early. You can also experience more muscles cramps and stiffness, irregular periods, and fatigue. Some women will also experience depression because of the condition, as the energy levels dip throughout the day.
The thyroid controls the release of hormones to support the metabolism. This is the part of the body that turns the calories into energy. If your body struggles to release the hormones, the metabolism slows down, and you don’t get all the energy your body needs. This leaves the calories behind, so they end up getting stored. This is when you will start seeing the weight gain.
Fatigue is a common symptom of many conditions, so your doctor will look out for the other signs to help with the initial diagnostic test. In fact, around 3-4 million people in America are likely living with hypothyroidism without realizing it. This is around 20% of those currently being treated with the condition.
One of the most commonly confused conditions is chronic fatigue. Due to the dip in the energy levels, weight gain is common. More people eat more than they need when suffering from chronic fatigue without realizing. But the same happens with an underactive thyroid.
Because of the way the thyroid affects the heart rate, it is possible to suffer from an irregular heart rate. The blood flow to your body can also be affected. Women are also more likely to experience osteoporosis earlier in life. This is because the bone is destroyed much faster than it should be, and the body can’t get all the nutrients the bones need for good development.
While depression is common, you can suffer from other cognitive problems. Many women experiences focus and memory issues. The good news is the symptoms will disappear when getting treatment.
Because of the way the immune system kicks up a gear during pregnancy, there is a risk for your baby. Not only can you find it harder to get pregnant, but your risk of miscarriage can increase. You’ll want to discuss this with your doctor if you’re trying to get pregnant and suspect a thyroid problem.
Testing for an Underactive Thyroid
The good news is there are tests to help determine if your thyroid is acting irregularly. A TSH test is the standard option. Results come back within 48 hours and tell a doctor whether the thyroid is under or overactive. From there it’s possible to get the right treatment.
Your doctor will listen to your symptoms before deciding whether to carry out the test. The TSH test will require blood being drawn. Your blood may also be taken to test for other conditions to rule out all options for your symptoms.
Treating Hypothyroidism Successfully
There are no cures for an underactive thyroid. Medication is needed for the rest of the life to help manage the production of hormones within the gland. The only successful medication is levothyroxine. This will be prescribed by a doctor and is approved by the FDA.
Getting the balance of the medication is tricky. The thyroid’s activity differs between patients. A doctor will monitor your symptoms to determine whether you’ve been prescribed enough of the medication to manage your thyroid’s activity. Most doctors will underestimate and then increase the levels as needed.
The TSH test is a way to help determine the amount of the medication you will need. Most doctors will get the levels right within the first few months of managing the disorder.
There are now currently known natural or herbal remedies to help manage the thyroid gland. Some of the considered treatments can be relatively dangerous, as they lead to bone loss and heart problems. The FDA is still to approve any natural treatments. Your best option is to manage through medication.
However, a healthy diet can help to manage some of the symptoms. You’ll gain the nutrients you need to get more energy and keep your calorie intake to a manageable level for your metabolism.
Once your medication is at the right level, you shouldn’t see any symptoms associated with the condition. The medication helps your thyroid work as it should normally.
Does Hypothyroidism Mean That You’ll Develop Thyroid Cancer?
There used to be the fear that women with hypothyroidism would go on to develop thyroid cancer. After all, this is cancer that is on the rise. However, there isn’t a direct link. While women can be more at risk there is no guarantee that your health issues will advance in this way. When your thyroid gland is protected through medical treatments, you can help to improve its overall health.
The good news is that if you do have an underactive thyroid, your doctor will look out for your condition getting worse more closely. If you do develop cancer, it’s more likely to be noticed at an early stage. This means you can get treatment at an earlier stage making it easier to fight against it.
If the tumor is small, most thyroid cancers won’t need excessive treatments. In some cases, the gland will be removed, and this means you’ll have hypothyroidism for the rest of your life.
Living with Hypothyroidism
Just because you have an underactive thyroid doesn’t mean your life has to completely change. It doesn’t mean you have to be overweight for the rest of your life. Once you get the right balance in your medication, you can live your life just like everyone else. It is possible to lose weight naturally like everyone else. You may just find it a little harder while getting the right balance in your medications.
The difference is that you’ll be on medication for the rest of your life. It’s important to take the medication to help get the right hormones around your body. Once you do, everything should go back to normal. This can lead to losing all the symptoms that you had.
Your body may get symptoms back later in life. This is a sign that your thyroid is becoming more underactive. Talk to your doctor when this happens to see about increasing the levels of medication you take.
Following a healthy diet and lifestyle is one of the easiest ways to support your thyroid production. You want to get the right nutrients to help prevent some of the side effects of osteoporosis and cancer. It’s also worth adding more exercise to your day if you can to help reduce the fatigue issues.
Focus on improving your sleep and stress levels. If you are stressed, your whole body is affected, and your hormonal production is completely thrown out of balance. Find ways of managing your stress if you suffer from it daily, including through yoga and meditation. Managing your stress levels can also help to manage your sleep. By getting more sleep, it’s easier to reset the body and feel refreshed the next day.
Hypothyroidism: In Conclusion
There’s no need to fret over hypothyroidism. While it’s annoying, it’s one of the easiest conditions to treat. Doctors understand much more about it than many other conditions and they have the tools to help you live your life normally.
The hardest part is getting a diagnosis. The symptoms can mimic other conditions, but doctors are aware of this. If there is any sign that your thyroid is underactive, your doctor will order a TSH test along with other blood tests. This will help to get to the bottom of your symptoms. Even if it doesn’t turn out to be an underactive thyroid, this is a condition that can at least be ruled out.
Don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor if you suffer from any symptoms of hypothyroidism. Your doctor will make sure you are happy and healthy.