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Women's Health

Could it Be My Thyroid?

Changes in Your Body May Signal Thyroid Issues

October 01, 2010
The rapid hormonal changes of pregnancy and menopause can cause major shifts in our immune system making a woman's immune system more likely than a man's to attack her own tissues. Because thyroid hormone levels also shift with changes in estrogen and progesterone, the thyroid gland can be misidentified as a foreign invader and is prone for attack by the immune system. The result may be thyroiditis, or inflammation of the thyroid gland, and may present with symptoms of either hypothyroidism (low function) or hyperthyroidism (high function).

Such inflammation may be transient and resolve on its own, as in a case of post-partum thyroiditis, or may be chronic in nature, and require long term medical treatment. Many patients have presented with complaints of not returning to their normal energy levels after pregnancy or issues during menopause such as hot flashes, insomnia, or hair loss. Since the symptoms of thyroid disease overlap with hormonal changes, it may be easy to miss a developing thyroid problem without proper testing.

Hypothyroidism can present with weight gain, constipation, dry skin, depression, and cholesterol issues or menstrual abnormalities. Hyperthyroidism is associated with weight loss, fast heart rate, feeling jittery, and diarrhea. It is important to note that both conditions can cause menstrual abnormalities, fatigue, hair loss, skin changes, palpitations, and mood issues. For a new mom, issues with milk production, not restarting menstrual cycles after stopping breast feeding, continued hair loss, rapid weight changes, depression, palpitations and insomnia may be additional red flags to a possible thyroid issue.

If you suspect a thyroid problem, ask your doctor to check the level of a signal hormone from the pituitary called TSH, or thyroid stimulating hormone. Its level runs opposite of the thyroid function and will be elevated if the thyroid is under functioning and low if the gland is too active. Checking free levels of thyroid hormones (T4 and T3) measures thyroid hormone available to the cells and anti-thyroid antibody levels like thyroid peroxidase antibody and anti-thyroglobulin antibody can look for an immune system attack on the thyroid gland.

Thyroid issues can present in both men and women at any time of life. But in women, hormonal swings can often overlap or trigger the symptoms of thyroid disease, and complicate the diagnosis. Talk with your doctor about testing and treatments to help you find your hormonal balance.

Angela LaSalle, MD practices Integrative Medicine with Indiana Health Group in Carmel, IN and is board certified in Family Medicine.

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Tags: Health, Maternity, Women's Health

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