Mother’s Day may be gone, but many are still in the spirit of showering their mother or the special woman in their life with attention and gifts. While giving (or getting) that extra attention, have you ever stopped to wonder if your mother suffers from hypothyroidism? Does she know the warning signs? Do you? Remember: hypothyroidism affects more women than men.
While the condition can plague both sexes, it is much more common in women. Women are five to eight times more likely to have a thyroid problem than men and one in eight women will develop thyroid dysfunction in their lifetime!
So what should women be on the lookout for? The symptoms are very common and frequently overlooked; however, they include fatigue, muscle weakness/cramps, temperature intolerance, constipation, unexplained weight gain, cognitive dysfunction and more. These symptoms are not gender-biased; men can experience them as well.
Other symptoms that may be a little more gender-specific include those related to reproduction. While men can experience infertility, this symptom seems to affect women more because low thyroid function can greatly alter the menstrual cycle, potentially causing it to stop all together. Low thyroid levels can disrupt ovulation because an increase of TRH (thyrotropin releasing hormone) and TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) creates prolactin which is a hormone that will decrease FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) levels which results in the irregular menstrual periods.
More symptoms that are clearly gender-biased have to do with pregnancy and the child’s development. Suboptimal thyroid function can cause miscarriages or even stillbirths. A study conducted in 20121 explained that even “mild thyroid dysfunction could greatly increase the risk of serious problems,” and mild thyroid dysfunction “doubled the risk of miscarriage… They also had seven times greater risk of still birth.” This happens because when a woman becomes pregnant she needs to have enough thyroid hormones circulating for herself and the child which typically isn’t a problem for a normal functioning thyroid gland.
In addition to potentially lethal complications, low thyroid levels can also affect the child’s brain development. One study stated, “Epidemiological studies have indicated that even a marginally low thyroxin level in a pregnant woman may give rise to reduction in cognitive function of the offspring.”2 And another indicated that “maternal hypothyroidism causes pregnancy complications…some of these are risk factors for autism.”3
While the symptoms may differ for men and women both are likely to write their symptoms off and just deal with them as part of their everyday life; however, this should not be done. Don’t write off constant fatigue as a symptom of motherhood. While this may play a role in the problem, if you are experiencing other symptoms, it’s definitely worth looking into. Watch out for the signs and don’t wait until you can barely function to do something about it.
1. Endocrine Society (2012, June 23). Mild thyroid dysfunction in early pregnancy linked to serious complications. Newswise. http://www.newswise.com/articles/mild-thyroid-dysfunction-in-early-pregnancy-linked-to-serious-complications
2. Boas M, Feldt-Rasmussen U, Main KM 2012 Thyroid Effects of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals. Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology 355:240–248
3. Román GC, Ghassabian A, Bingers-Schokking JJ, Jaddoe V, Hofman A, de Rijke YB, Verhuslt FC, Tiemeier H 2013 Association of Gestational Maternal Hypothyroxinemia and Increased Autism Risk. Ann Neurol 74:733–742