The thyroid gland influences almost all of the metabolic processes such as to grow and create energy in your body. The two key hormones that the thyroid is responsible for producing are triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). Thyroid disorders can range from a small, harmless goiter (enlarged gland) that needs no treatment to life-threatening cancer.
Thyroid conditions can be grouped as either:
hyperthyroidism, which means the thyroid gland is producing too much thyroid hormones; or
hypothyroidism, which means the thyroid is underactive and not producing enough thyroid hormones
Who is at risk?
Thyroid conditions or abnormalities are five times more common in women than in men.
Women with a family history of thyroid disease, postpartum (post birth) thyroiditis, previous treatment for Graves disease, or autoimmune disorders such as type 1 diabetes, are at higher risk of thyroid abnormalities. Age also increases the risk of thyroid conditions therefore women with a family history and signs and symptoms should be monitored regularly for abnormal thyroid levels.
Symptoms of thyroid conditions vary between individuals which is why it is often difficult to diagnose.
Thyroid disorders in younger women
While thyroid disorders are more common in women at midlife, younger women do experience thyroid abnormalities which can impact their physical and emotional wellbeing. In addition to the physical symptoms of thyroid disorders, there may also be an emotional impact of this condition. Weight gain may lead to body image concerns and fatigue may affect some women's motivation to exercise. This negative cycle affects the mental health of many sufferers.
Thyroid problems can also affect fertility and pregnancy. The health problems associated with thyroid abnormalities can cause decreased fertility, increased risk of miscarriage and an increased risk of premature delivery.
Thyroid disorders in women at midlife
Thyroid disease, which is one of the most common hormone disorders in women, can be difficult to recognize in the middle years. A key reason for this is that symptoms of thyroid disorders are similar to symptoms of menopause such as changes in menstrual cycles, fatigue, sleep disturbance, mood, skin, and hair changes, and heat (or cold) intolerance.
A large American study which looked at women transitioning through menopause found that approximately 10 per cent of women aged between 42 and 52 had abnormal thyroid function.
Thyroid disorders in older women
Thyroid disorders or abnormalities are also common in older women. Hyperthyroidism (and overactive thyroid gland) can have a significant impact on bone health. High concentration of the thyroid hormone can lead to more bone breakdown than bone formation which affects bone density and causes osteoporosis.
What should you do?
If you have concerns, contact your doctor to discuss your symptoms.
Find out more information about thyroid conditions, management and treatment.
Published with the permission of Jean Hailes for Women's Health
1800 JEAN HAILES (532 642)