In the middle part of the neck, lies a butterfly shaped gland known as the thyroid gland. Its main task is to manufacture two hormones; thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). Production of these hormones in sufficient amounts is very important as both T3 and T4 control various bodily functions. Most importantly, they ensure normal metabolic rate, which is necessary to maintain health.
When the thyroid gland functioning goes haywire, quite a few health issues erupt and affect quality of life. When it comes to thyroid disorders, reports suggest that women are four times more susceptible than men. Thyroid problems in women are usually not worrisome but treatment in the form of oral medicines becomes essential when symptoms are bothersome.
Thyroid Disorders in Women
To be honest, cancer that strikes the thyroid gland is a rarity and hence is considered to be the most uncommon cause of thyroid problems. Although the exact cause is yet unknown, those taking radiation therapy on the neck and head are at increased risk of getting thyroid cancer. Radiation treatment involves bombarding light of specific wavelength on the target site, more specifically the superficial skin in order to treat skin disorders like acne. However, these remedies may harm the thyroid gland and contribute in elevating the chances of thyroid cancer.
In this condition, a part of the thyroid gland is swollen due to the presence of nodules, which are nothing but fluid filled lumps. In some instances, the solid lumps contain blood, instead of fluid. The swelling may be due to just one or multiple nodules. Whatever may be the case, it triggers thyroid dysfunction, eventually leading to hyperthyroidism. Sometimes, nodules are so large that it can be difficult to breathe and swallow food properly. With nodules, the voice may become hoarse and the patient may also cough frequently. Having excess of goitrogenic foods daily that are notorious for impairing thyroid function is one of the causes of nodule development.
Thyroid symptoms in women will differ according to thyroid levels. Whether it is low production of hormones or elevated thyroid levels, symptoms usually affect the menstrual cycle. These are explained below:
In case, the thyroid problem causes hypothyroidism, a condition that is marked by insufficient production of T3 and T4, the symptoms that may occur are listed below:
- Persistent tiredness
- Cold intolerance
- Increase in weight
- Dry puffy skin prominently visible on the face
- Abnormally high cholesterol levels
- Swollen joints
- Muscle pain
- Heavy periods
- Swollen joints
- Brittle or weak fingernails (nails easily get chipped or cracked)
- Hoarseness in voice
- Lethargy due to lack of energy
- Emotional symptoms such as depression
Thyroid disorders that increase the secretion of thyroid hormones to abnormally high levels can cause the following symptom:
- Unexplained weight loss
- Racy heart (heart beating fast)
- Excessive sweating
- Frequent bowel movement
- Light menstruation
- Trouble getting quality sleep
- Intolerance to heat
- Muscle weakness
Chronic smoking can raise the chances of developing thyroid problems. Taking immunosuppressants is also said to induce thyroid dysfunction. A serious neck injury, diet lacking in iodine and eating too much of soy foods are some of the major triggers of thyroid disorders. What are the conditions that cause malfunctioning of the thyroid gland? Hashimoto's thyroiditis and Graves' disease are the conditions that produce damaging effects on the thyroid gland. These thyroid conditions as well as other causes of malfunctioning of the thyroid gland in the fairer sex are given below:
Poor thyroid function is also linked to autoimmune disorders known as Graves' disease and Hashimoto's thyroiditis. In both these conditions, the thyroid gland has to face the brunt of immune system's invasion. Now, the thyroid gland is not strong enough to evade the immune system attack. The thyroid gland appears inflamed and it also loses its capability to work properly. Swollen thyroid may either cause hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism, depending upon the amount of damage caused by the immune system.
Inappropriate use of medicines to treat hyperthyroidism (excess thyroid levels) is many times the reason behind insufficient production of hormones. Although, anti-thyroid medicines do help to stabilize excess thyroid levels, when taken in large doses, it can permanently disable the thyroid gland, which may lead to hypothyroidism.
Surgical procedures involving removal of major part of the thyroid gland, can also cause thyroid problem in women that usually manifest in the form of inactive thyroid.
Thyroid Problems and Weight Gain
Unexplained weight gain occurs in women who suffer from hypothyroidism. In hypothyroidism, reduction in creation of thyroid hormones is observed. As a result, the body is no longer able to regulate metabolic rate. To be more specific, in hypothyroidism metabolic rate slows down considerably. As we all know, metabolism is a process in which foods gets converted into energy. As the speed of metabolic rate reduces in hypothyroidism, energy production decreases and most of the food consumed is stored as fat deposits. This additional accumulated fat eventually leads to weight gain.
Thyroid Problems After Pregnancy
Either of the thyroid disorders discussed below can occur after pregnancy. Around 5% of women suffer from thyroid problems after pregnancy. After giving birth to a baby, the new mother may show the presence of swollen thyroid. The abnormal inflammation interferes with the normal functioning of the thyroid and eventually causes too much or too little production of thyroid gland.
Treatment for these thyroid conditions aims at stabilizing thyroid levels. After diagnosing the type of thyroid disorder, doctors will prescribe appropriate medications to restore thyroid levels. For hyperthyroidism, anti-thyroid medications are recommended that helps to slow down thyroid activity. On the other hand, women diagnosed with hypothyroidism are asked to take thyroid pills to enhance thyroid function.