Your Guide to Understanding Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism can cause problems and difficulties for women suffering from this condition, including hormonal issues and chronic disorders. Understanding what hypothyroidism is and how it affects women’s health is important to finding effective relief. 

This guide will help you understand hypothyroidism, how it is caused, common symptoms, and the ways it can manifest and affect different aspects of your health.

What Is Hypothyroidism? 

Hypothyroidism Symptoms

Hypothyroidism, otherwise known as underactive thyroid disease, occurs when your thyroid gland is not making enough thyroid hormones (T3 and T4). This gland is in the neck, and it releases hormones that travel through your bloodstream and affect almost every part of the body, including the heart, brain, muscles, and skin. 

Hypothyroidism is common, especially among women, with an estimated 4.6% of the population having some form of this condition. The thyroid controls the metabolism, which is how the body’s cells use energy derived from food, and contributes to regulating the body’s temperature, heartbeat, and calorie-burning abilities. 

The condition reduces the body’s ability to produce the thyroid hormone, which causes the metabolism to become sluggish and induces the body’s processes to slow down and make less energy. This can drastically affect women’s health and wellness, reducing your quality of life. 

Hypothyroidism Symptoms

Hypothyroidism can sometimes be difficult to diagnose, as it creates problems throughout the body. If you have more than one of these conditions, oftentimes it can indicate there is a problem with the thyroid. Some of the symptoms of an underactive thyroid include:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Constipation
  • Dry hair or skin 
  • Hair loss
  • Slow heart rate
  • High cholesterol
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Sensitivity to cold
  • Hoarse voice
  • Irritability or nervousness
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Joint pain
  • Stiffness and swelling
  • Changes in the menstrual cycle
  • Memory problems
  • Muscle aches, weakness, or stiffness
  • Swelling of the thyroid gland (goiter)
  • Unexplained weight gain or difficulty losing weight

Any of these conditions can indicate hypothyroidism, although that’s not always the cause. It’s important to speak with a medical professional about your symptoms for a proper diagnosis and treatment. 

4 Common Causes for Hypothyroidism

The thyroid produces two specific hormones: thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). Women with hypothyroidism do not have a thyroid that produces enough of these two main hormones. This can occur for a few different reasons: 

1. Iodine Deficiency

Iodine Deficiency

Many women do not get enough iodine in their diets. Iodine is a natural mineral that helps to support the thyroid. People who do not have enough iodine in their diet can develop an iodine deficiency. This can cause hypothyroidism and a goiter, which is a swollen and enlarged thyroid gland.

2. Autoimmune Disease

The most common autoimmune disease that causes hypothyroidism is known as Hashimoto’s disease. This disease causes the immune system to attack the thyroid gland, preventing proper function. It’s unclear why this occurs, but reducing your stress levels, getting regular exercise, and eating a healthy, balanced diet can significantly reduce your chances of autoimmune issues. 

3. Damage to the Thyroid

Physical damage to the thyroid can also cause hypothyroidism. This can occur when someone is receiving thyroid treatment or undergoing surgery, or by radiation around the thyroid area. Certain medications, such as lithium, may also cause the condition. 

4. Pregnancy

Pregnancy

Pregnancy can cause different hormonal issues and physical changes, including a disorder known as postpartum thyroiditis. This condition, which affects around 5% of mothers, usually starts two to six months after childbirth and can last up to one year. Hypothyroidism is sometimes a symptom of postpartum thyroiditis. 

It’s important to be aware of these causes, as well as your symptoms, so you can understand how this condition may affect your health. Anyone who has the symptoms listed above along with one of these causes should seek the help of a doctor.

4 Ways How Hypothyroidism Affects Women’s Health

Women are five to eight times more likely to have hypothyroidism than men, causing significant changes to female health. It is related to many different functions of the body, such as hormone and metabolism regulation, meaning any thyroid troubles can result in issues such as: 

1. Menstrual Problems

Menstrual Problems

The thyroid helps to regulate the menstrual cycle, so if there is not enough of the thyroid hormone being produced, it can cause your periods to become light, heavy, or irregular. It may even cause early menopause, or periods that stop for several months at a time, which is known as amenorrhea.

2. Difficulties With Pregnancy 

Hypothyroidism affects hormonal balance, the menstrual cycle, and ovulation. Issues with ovulation can make it more difficult for women to become pregnant. The condition can also cause the body to produce prolactin, which is the hormone that causes breast milk production, preventing ovulation and pregnancy.  It can cause health concerns during pregnancy as well, due to the thyroid hormones that are produced during the baby’s development in the womb. Problems that the condition is known to cause during pregnancy include premature birth, infant heart failure, low birth weight, or miscarriages. 

3. Weight Issues

Hypothyroidism can cause significant weight fluctuations. Some women have reported gaining 10-20 pounds suddenly, only to discover later that it had to do with their thyroid. It is important to speak with a health care professional if you have experienced sudden unexplained weight changes. An underactive thyroid could be to blame. 

4. Health Issues and Complications

Untreated hypothyroidism can cause different health concerns and complications for women. Some of these issues can include: 

  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Goiter and swallowing issues
  • Heart problems
  • Joint pain
  • Mental health issues 
  • Concentration and memory problems

All these conditions can be linked to untreated hypothyroidism in women. Understanding your thyroid condition is key to finding a solution for effective wellness and relief. 

Find a Solution for Your Hypothyroidism

Women's health solutions

There are certain medications that many doctors prescribe for women with hypothyroidism, but oftentimes these treatments only work up to a certain point, or hardly at all. Dr. Karen Threlkel is an expert in holistic and naturopathic medicines who can effectively treat hypothyroidism in women without the need for prescription medications. 

For more information on holistic medicine solutions for thyroid disease, contact Dr. Karen Threlkel today. 

About The Author:

Dr. Karen Threlkel, Naturopathic Physician, Washington DC

Dr. Karen Threlkel, Naturopathic Physician, Washington DC

Dr. Threlkel received her degree of Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine from The National College for Naturopathic Medicine (now called The National University of Natural Medicine) in Portland, Oregon. She also holds a Bachelor Degree in Kinesiology from The University of Maryland. She is licensed in Naturopathic Medicine by the Government of the District of Columbia Department of Health. Dr. Threlkel is a member of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, past president & current member of the Washington DC Association of Naturopathic Physicians.

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