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Thyroid Disease: A Common Condition Among Women

Thank you to Northern Nevada Health System for sponsoring this post on thyroid disease by Dr. Amanda Magrini, Family Medicine Physician. Read our disclosure.

January is National Thyroid Awareness Month and we want to be sure our fellow moms have the tools they need to be thyroid healthy.

Let’s admit it, we all want to have the same energy levels as our kids but as we age and our bodies change, metabolism can be impacted.

Did you know women are five to eight times more likely to have thyroid disease compared to men (Cleveland Clinic)? Women can present with the disease at any age or stage of life.

Typically, hypothyroidism can present at birth and develop in postmenopausal women. You may be at higher risk for developing thyroid disease if you fall into one of these categories.


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Populations At Risk for Thyroid Disease

  • have a family history of thyroid disease
  • personal history of autoimmune disorders including celiac disease, lupus, type 1 and type 2 diabetes, and many others; this is because when your body has a predisposition to attack one area of itself another can become a target easily
  • certain medications, including amiodarone (for abnormal heart rates) and lithium (a medication for mood disorders)
  • prior history of thyroid procedure
  • people over the age of 60, particularly women

We suggest starting with symptoms that may be an indicator that your thyroid is off-balance – whether overactive or underactive.

Common Symptoms for Thyroid Patients

  • Underactive (hypothyroidism) thyroid may have symptoms including fatigue, feeling cold all the time, constipation, memory loss, weight gain, absence of periods, and a change in your hair quality
  • Overactive (hyperthyroidism) thyroid symptoms tend to be the opposite of underactive, including feeling anxious/irritable, feeling hot all the time, diarrhea, muscle weakness or vision problems, weight loss, heavy menses, and hair loss

Thyroid Disease Can be Caused by other Diseases

One thing we do know as medical professionals is that other diseases can affect how your thyroid gland works. For those with underactive thyroid disease, conditions include thyroiditis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, postpartum thyroiditis, iodine deficiency, and a non-functioning thyroid gland.

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Credit: Jeramie Lu Photography

Alternatively, those with an overactive thyroid can experience Graves’ disease, nodules, thyroiditis, or excessive iodine. When you see your family medicine provider, ask if there are other underlying causes of your thyroid disease – whether newly diagnosed or you have been managing your condition for a while.

Testing for Thyroid Disease – Where Do You Begin?

The traditional way to test for thyroid abnormalities is by having your provider order a TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) which is a hormone that is released from your pituitary gland, a small gland in the brain that regulates your thyroid and how much hormone it releases.

When your TSH is high, this indicates that your thyroid is underactive. This hormone gets feedback from the amount of thyroid actively circulating in your body so when there isn’t enough of it around the TSH goes higher to tell your thyroid to make more.

When your TSH is low, that indicates that your body is sensing too much thyroid hormone present and is trying to signal your thyroid not to make or release anymore hormone.

After Diagnosis – Medication, Lifestyle and More

After consulting with a provider and receiving a thyroid disease diagnosis, your next steps vary depending on the disease variation.

Overactive Thyroid

If you have an overactive thyroid, there are medications that can be used to block your thyroid from making too much thyroid hormone (like methimazole), or in some cases your thyroid may need to be radiated or removed to stop this, as it can be dangerous to your health if left untreated.

Underactive Thyroid

If you have an underactive thyroid, with a TSH over 10, thyroid hormone replacement through medication is recommended to balance this important balance in your body.

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Balanced Diet

When it comes to nutrition, providers always advise patients to teach a healthy, balanced diet. While there are no foods that directly affect thyroid function, there are a lot of trending diets online that claim to be able to “fix thyroid problems” – none of these has real evidence supporting their claims.

Years ago, iodine deficiency was a source of thyroid problems, since your thyroid needs this to be able to function. However, with the addition of iodized salt in most things we consume, particularly in the U.S., this is not as much of a concern anymore. You can end up with an overactive thyroid if your iodine intake is extremely high (or with certain medications) but this is very rare.

Another factor to consider is supplements. Particularly, biotin supplements for hair, skin, and nails can make your thyroid lab tests appear abnormal although there is not a problem with them in reality. Your provider can sift through your labs and verify whether or not this is the case.

Pregnancy and Thyroid Disease

If you have an undiagnosed thyroid disorder, you can have problems conceiving. Even well-controlled thyroid disease can lead to fertility problems. If an autoimmune condition is also present, that may affect your ability to ovulate and successfully conceive.

Lastly, if your thyroid is too high or too low even with medication, this will directly impact the release of eggs from the ovary and can lead to difficulty conceiving.

In women with known thyroid disease, thyroid hormone needs to be monitored during pregnancy as the thyroid hormone requirement in pregnancy goes. If you are on medication, your dose needs to be adjusted.

It is very important to be monitored closely by your provider, every four to six weeks because a balanced thyroid is important for your baby’s health and growth.

If you are having symptoms of an underactive or overactive thyroid, consider seeing a provider so they can formally diagnose the condition and begin treatment.

Additional Resources for Patients:

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Northern Nevada Health System is a regional network of care that has elevated and improved access to healthcare for 40 years. The System operates two acute care hospitals located in Sparks and Reno, 24/7 freestanding emergency departments, a Medical Group which offers family and internal medicine, urgent care and specialty care, and Quail Surgical and Pain Management. NNHS is committed to maintaining and improving the well-being of the community and is known for top-rated patient satisfaction, in addition to providing quality care and a safe environment for patients to heal. To learn more, visit northernnevadahealth.com.