Dr. G - Health Column

Women and Thyroid Issues

Women are more likely to suffer from hypothyroidism due to a hormonal imbalance. This is one of the reasons for thyroid problems to be closely associated with menopause.

Hypothyroidism can worsen symptoms of menopause. Often, treating thyroid symptoms helps with better management of menopause symptoms.

Thyroid disease and pregnancy

Women are 5 to 8 times more likely to develop hypothyroidism due to hormonal imbalances during menstruation, pregnancy and menopause.

During the first trimester, the baby is dependent on the mother’s thyroid supply through the placenta. After around 12 weeks in the womb, the baby’s thyroid begins to function independently but does not produce its own hormones until 18-20 weeks in the womb.

How do pregnancy hormones influence the thyroid?

Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (hCG) and oestrogen cause the thyroid gland in pregnant women to slightly enlarge and increase the level of thyroid hormones in the blood. Hyperthyroidism in pregnancy is usually caused by Grave’s Disease, an autoimmune disorder that causes the thyroid to produce excessive hormones.

Symptoms of hyperthyroidism similar to pregnancy

• Fast heart rate
• Fatigue
• Discomfort in heat

Differing symptoms of hyperthyroidism during pregnancy

• Shaky hands
• Irregular heart beat
• Weight loss or not having regular pregnancy weight gain

Treatment of hyperthyroidism during pregnancy

If hyperthyroidism is mild it can be left untreated. If it is severe, doctors commonly prescribe antithyroid medication that causes the thyroid to produce less hormone. If it is left untreated, it can cause:
• Miscarriage
• Premature birth
• Low birth weight
• Preeclampsia (severe rise in blood pressure towards the end of pregnancy)
• Thyroid storm (sudden worsening of symptoms)

Hypothyroidism during pregnancy

Hypothyroidism left untreated, particularly in the first trimester, can cause low IQ and developmental issues in the baby. It can also result in:
• Preeclampsia
• Anaemia
• Miscarriage
• Stillbirth

What is postpartum thyroiditis?

It is a condition of an inflamed thyroid affecting women during the first year after giving birth. It is commonly found in women with type 1 diabetes. This disorder causes both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism due to thyroid hormones being leaked from the thyroid gland.

Do all women go through this?

Not all women go through both phases of thyroid disease. For hypothyroid women, it can last up to 1 year after the baby is born. For some women, this does not go away. There are hardly any symptoms for this disorder.

What is the recommended diet?

Pregnant women are recommended to eat foods that are high in iodine such as dairy products, eggs, seafood and iodised salt, all within limits of a healthy diet.

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