Hypothyroidism in Females

Hypothyroidism in females is more common than hypothyroidism in men. The reason behind this phenomenon is not known. This is surprising as the thyroid gland functions are identical in both men and women.

There are several factors that contribute to hypothyroidism in women.  Women who are diabetic and depend on insulin for example can also suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, anemia and graying hair.  They have antibodies within their thyroid gland.  These factors cause certain auto-immune disorders that ultimately lead to hypothyroidism.

Whilst hypothyroidism typically occurs in females in their late 40’s and 50’s, hypothyroidism in women can also begin very early.  In fact statistics show that between 5 and 10% of women suffer from hypothyroidism after pregnancy.  This is often attributed to pregnancy related complications.  Miscarriages are also common in women suffering from hypothyroidism as are premature deliveries and the chances of having a child born with transient congenital hypothyroidism.  Thyroid malfunction can also cause postpartum thyroiditis, an adult type of transient hypothyroidism that usually resolves itself with time.

Symptoms Of Hypothyroidism In Females

Men and women share many similar hypothyroidism symptoms.  Notable these include fatigue, headaches, body aches, nausea, vertigo, low libido, mood swings, intolerance for cold, weak muscles, weight gain, constipation, muscle cramping, swelling, depression, memory and cognition problems amongst others.

In women hypothyroidism can also cause similar symptoms to menopause – anxiety, mood swings etc.

Interesting Questions about Thyroid:

What is the Thyroid?

The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland just below the Adam’s apple. This gland plays a very important role in controlling the body’s metabolism, that is, how the body functions. It does this by producing thyroid hormones (T4 and T3), chemicals that travel through the blood to every part of the body. Thyroid hormones tell the body how fast to work and use energy.

The thyroid gland works like an air conditioner. If there are enough thyroid hormones in the blood, the gland stops making the hormones (just as an air conditioner cycles off when there is enough cool air in a house). When the body needs more thyroid hormones, the gland starts producing again.

The pituitary gland works like a thermostat, telling the thyroid when to start and stop. The pituitary sends thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) to the thyroid to tell the gland what to do.

About 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease. Many are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. No age, economic group, race, or sex is immune to thyroid disease.

The thyroid gland might produce too much hormone (hyperthyroidism), making the body use energy faster than it should, or too little hormone (hypothyroidism), making the body use energy slower than it should. The gland may also become inflamed (thyroiditis) or enlarged (goiter), or develop one or more lumps (nodules).

Fact:Two of the most common thyroid diseases, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Graves’ disease, are autoimmune diseases and may run in families.
Fact:Hypothyroidism is 10 times more common in women than in men.
Fact:One out of five women over the age of 75 has Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, the most common cause of hypothyroidism.
Fact:Thyroid dysfunction complicates 5%-9% of all pregnancies.
Fact:About 15,000 new cases of thyroid cancer are reported each year.
Fact:One out of every 4,000 infants is born without a working thyroid gland.

What is Graves’ Eye Disease?

The eye changes associated with Graves’ disease can be called either Graves’ ophthalmopathy, Graves’ orbitopathy, or Graves’ eye disease. Approximately 50% of the patients with Graves’ disease develop some eye disease, but the eye changes may be so subtle that patients are unaware of them. For most patients with Graves’ disease, eye involvement is minimal. Severe orbitopathy occurs in less than 5% of patients with Graves’ disease.

Graves’ eye disease is not caused by thyroid dysfunction. Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disease that affects the eyes and the thyroid gland independently of each other. Thus, the hyperthyroidism may improve with therapy, while the eye disease stays the same or gets worse. Even though the thyroid disease and the eye disease run independent courses, it is important to treat the hyperthyroidism associated with Graves’ disease.

An ophthalmologist is usually involved in the treatment of Graves’ eye disease. Most thyroidologists and endocrinologists should be able to recommend an ophthalmologist experienced in the treatment of Graves’ eye disease. In addition, The Thyroid Society maintains a list of such ophthalmologists throughout the country.

Symptoms of Graves’ eye disease may include a feeling of irritation or sand in the eyes, double vision (diplopia), and excessive tearing. Inflammation and swelling behind the eye may cause actual protrusion of the eyeball from the orbit. When this protrusion occurs, it is called exophthalmos or proptosis.

When the eye changes are severe, there may be marked swelling of the eye, inability to move an eye, corneal ulceration, and in extreme cases, loss of vision. Fortunately, these severe changes occur infrequently, but when they do occur, consultation with an ophthalmologist is essential. Graves’ eye disease usually affects both eyes, although each eye may be affected to a different degree. In some cases, only one eye is affected.

The course of Graves’ eye disease is unpredictable. The initial, or active, phase of Graves’ eye disease may last for eighteen to twenty-four months. During this time period, the eye signs and symptoms may change considerably. For this reason, physicians are reluctant to use certain treatments, such as surgery, during this phase, fearing that ongoing inflammation will cause the eyes to change again after surgery. Thus, most physicians advise patients to defer treatments such as surgery until the eye disease goes into an inactive phase. Of course, if a patient’s symptoms are severe or if loss of vision is threatened, then all available treatments will be used at any time, even during the active phase.

Most patients will receive only symptomatic treatment during the active phase of Graves’ eye disease (see list below). Most importantly, it should be stressed that smoking aggravates Graves’ eye disease.

Physicians may advise the following to relieve symptoms associated with Graves’ eye disease:

  • discontinue smoking
  • avoid smoke-filled rooms
  • use lubricating eye drops
  • cover eyes while sleeping
  • wear wrap-around dark glasses outdoors during the day
  • elevate the head of the bed to reduce overnight eye swelling
  • wear prism glasses, or cover one eye with a patch, to relieve double vision
  • turn ceiling fans off before going to bed
  • avoid exposure to strong sunlight
  • avoid or limit wearing contact lenses
  • take diuretics temporarily to relieve swelling around the eyes

When symptoms of inflammation are severe, either steroids in large doses or radiation therapy may be advised. Surgery (orbital decompression) is sometimes recommended when the inflammation is so severe that loss of vision is threatened. The choice of therapy among steroids, radiation, and surgery (used individually or in combination) and the timing of therapy require a great deal of thought on the part of the team caring for the patient with Graves’ eye disease.

Once the inflammation in the eyes has stabilized, or entered the inactive phase, patients may then have surgery to relieve signs and symptoms, such as lid retraction, swelling around the eyes, or double vision. Ophthalmologists specializing in plastic surgery of the eye perform the surgery to relieve lid retraction and swelling around the eyes. Sometimes other ophthalmologists who specialize in diseases of the muscles of the eye perform the operation(s) to relieve double vision.

Medical and Surgical Treatment Options for Graves’ Eye Disease

  • steroids
  • radiation therapy
  • surgical adjustment of eyelid placement
  • plastic surgery for swelling around the eye(s)
  • eye muscle surgery for realignment of the eye(s)
  • orbital decompression
What is Hyperthyroidism?

Hyperthyroidism makes the body speed up. It occurs when there is too much thyroid hormone in the blood (“hyper” means “too much”). Nearly 10 times more frequent in women, it affects about 2% of all women in the United States.

The most common cause of hyperthyroidism, Graves’ disease, is caused by problems with the immune system and tends to run in families. It affects at least 2.5 million Americans, including Olympic athlete Gail Devers who won a gold medal in track after being diagnosed with and treated for Graves’ disease.

Symptoms include:

  • fast heart rate
  • nervousness
  • increased perspiration
  • muscle weakness
  • trembling hands
  • weight loss
  • hair loss
  • skin changes
  • increased frequency of bowel movements
  • decreased menstrual flow and less frequent menstrual flow
  • goiter
  • eyes that seem to be popping out of their sockets.

The symptoms of hyperthyroidism rarely occur all at once. However, if you have more than one of these symptoms, and they continue for some time, you should see your doctor.

Have more questions? Need more answers? Check our Full Thyroid FAQ

Treatment Of Hypothyroidism In Females

Hypothyroidism can be cured if it is diagnosed early and the proper medication is given. It is however often difficult to detect an under active thyroid.  Symptoms are often mild, may be symptomatic of any number of other health issues and cannot be detected early.  Unfortunately, untreated hypothyroidism can escalate into far more serious stages like myxedema.

Hypothyroidism in females is also reasonably common – one in eight women globally will experience some type of thyroid problem during their lifetime.  Therefore women should be aware of the symptoms and get themselves diagnosed early. Proper medication, regular exercise and a balanced diet will help keep hypothyroidism at bay. Women need to be extra vigilant as pregnancy complications and miscarriages are an outcome of hypothyroidism. They should have a proper diet plan as hypothyroidism contributes to weight gain in women. Only by following a proper exercise regimen with a balanced diet can women shed the extra pounds.

Hypothyroidism in females can also be an outcome of stress.  This is especially true in the post menopausal years. She should learn to balance it and spend some time taking care of herself.  Her diet should be rich in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals.  She should try her best to keep stress at bay. She should not get depressed if she has been diagnosed with an underactive thyroid. There is proper medication and that can help her overcome this disease with ease. However, she has to follow the doctor’s advice and try changing her lifestyle and eating habits. She should be aware of the symptoms of an under active thyroid and if she feels she may be developing hypothyroidism, seek medical attention.

Donna Morgan

Donna Morgan

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