Thyroid diseases can affect anyone, but some of us are more likely to be affected than others. Women are at higher risk of thyroid problems than men and conditions affecting the thyroid gland can affect women in different ways too. It’s important for women to be aware of the signs of thyroid problems and to ask a doctor about any symptoms.
How Common Are Thyroid Problems in Women?
Approximately 1 in 8 women will be affected by a thyroid condition at some point in their lives. The risk for women is about 10 times higher than for men. One reason for this is that thyroid disorders are often triggered by autoimmune responses, which happen when the body’s immune system starts to attack its own cells. We still don’t understand what causes these responses, but we do know that autoimmune conditions are more common in women than in men.
Another reason for the prevalence of thyroid disorders in women is that there is an interplay between thyroid hormones and the hormones that fluctuate during the menstrual cycle. Thyroid problems can happen at any time but they are especially common in women during and after the menopause when hormone levels are changing. Some women may confuse the symptoms of thyroid disorders with the effects of the menopause, which can prevent them from seeking treatment.
Thyroid Problems and Women’s Health
In addition to being more common in women, thyroid problems can also cause some additional symptoms for women. If you have a thyroid condition then you may experience issues with your menstrual cycle or fertility. This is because the hormones that are produced by your thyroid gland can affect your reproductive system in various ways.
- Thyroid disorders in girls can delay or speed up the onset of puberty.
- Abnormal levels of thyroid hormones can make your periods lighter or heavier. In some cases, thyroid disorders can make your cycle less regular or could stop your periods completely.
- Thyroid disorders can cause fertility problems if they prevent your ovaries from releasing mature eggs. You may also be at higher risk of developing ovarian cysts if you have an underactive thyroid.
- If you are pregnant then there is a risk that a thyroid disorder could cause complications. Hyperthyroidism can increase the chances of having severe morning sickness, while hypothyroidism could put you at increased risk of premature labour, miscarriage and other serious complications.
- Thyroid disorders can increase the chances of early menopause (in your early 40s or earlier).
Many of the effects and risks associated with thyroid disorders in women can be managed with the right treatment. Since thyroid disorders can have a dramatic impact on your health and quality of life as well as your menstrual cycle and fertility, it is vital to seek help if you’re experiencing any symptoms. Possible signs of thyroid disorders include fatigue, unexplained weight loss or gain, and changes in your mood or energy levels. Although it can be easy to confuse the symptoms with other issues, such as the menopause, it is always best to talk to an expert when you notice any changes.