Are you not feeling like yourself lately? Do you seem more tired than normal or have you noticed a change in your skin and hair? Is your scale displaying a number you have never seen before? There could be many different reasons for each of these symptoms on their own, but when combined, these symptoms might suggest a thyroid problem.
Most of us don’t spend a lot of time thinking about our thyroid, but perhaps we should. It is estimated that 200 million people in the world have some form of thyroid disease and women are 10 times more likely than men to develop thyroid trouble Diagnosis of a thyroid issue is difficult because the symptoms can go unnoticed and are often connected with other health problems. It is easy to end up treating the symptoms rather than the underlying issue.
So, what symptoms should you be asking your doctor about if think you have a thyroid problem? It all depends on the kind of thyroid problem you have, so the best place to start is with the most common disorders.
The two most common thyroid problems are hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism.
What is hypothyroidism?
Hypothyroidism is when your thyroid doesn’t produce enough hormones for your body. The most common form of hypothyroidism is an autoimmune disorder called Hashimoto’s disease. With this disease, your body creates antibodies that attack the thyroid and destroy its ability to produce hormones. Talk about friendly-fire…
According to the Mayo Clinic, if your thyroid is underactive, you may experience:
- Increase sensitivity to cold
- Dry skin
- Weight gain
- Elevated cholesterol
- Pain or weakness in your muscles and joints
- Impaired memory
- Irregular periods
What is Hyperthyroidism?
If you aren’t experiencing those particular symptoms, you might be experiencing hyperthyroidism. Hyperthyroidism is when your thyroid produces too many hormones for your body! The most common form of hyperthyroidism is Graves’ disease, which is an autoimmune disorder that causes an abnormal immune response, leading to thyroid overactivity.
According to the Mayo Clinic, if your thyroid is overactive, you may experience:
- Rapid or irregular heartbeats
- Unintentional weightloss
- Increased appetite
- Change in menstrual patterns
- Change in bowel patterns
- Fatigue, muscle weakness
- Difficulty sleeping
- Thinning skin and fine, brittle hair
What causes these diseases?
While there are a variety of causes for thyroid issues, like benign nodules, birth defects, genetics, and medications, there is also evidence to suggest the underlying cause could be related to gender differences.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, women are more susceptible to autoimmune diseases, which make up the majority of diagnosed cases of thyroid issues in the U.S.
No one is quite sure why women are more susceptible to these diseases but the current working theory links it back to the X chromosome. According to Everyday Health, the X chromosome carries the bulk of genetic information about our immune systems and since women have two copies of this chromosome, we have a more complex immune system than men. So, when our immune system is triggered, we produce a stronger inflammatory response, which plays a key role in autoimmune diseases.
Also, there is also some evidence to suggest that pregnancy and estrogen make us susceptible to these diseases. Research shows that autoimmune diseases flair up at key points in female hormone fluctuations such as during menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause, thus leading experts to believe there is a connection between the two. As more research is conducted, women will benefit from knowing more about the origin of thyroid disfunction.
But no matter which school of thought you subscribe to, the data shows women are just more vulnerable to thyroid issues than men. And since we can’t do much about our genetics and hormones, the best thing we can do is be vigilant about our health and be prepared to treat thyroid issues as they may arise.
There are a wide variety of medications available that can effectively treat and manage thyroid disorders. Most patients live long and healthy lives with medication to manage the symptoms. But, if for some reason medication is not resolving the issue, surgery may be required. No need to panic though – the surgical risks are relatively low and medication can be used to replace the hormones you lose by removing a portion of your thyroid.
There are also a variety of lifestyle changes one can make to successfully manage a thyroid disorder.
For those with hypothyroidism, avoid cruciferous vegetables (like cabbage and cauliflower), eat a balanced diet with limited processed foods, exercise (within your personal limits), manage your stress with yoga and meditation, and use caution when trying supplements.
For those with hyperthyroidism, try a low-iodine diet, increase your intake of calcium-rich foods, exercise regularly (again, within your personal limits), try meditation to calm your mind and consider taking a B-12 or calcium supplement (check with your doctor first).
Tying it all together
Although women may be more susceptible to thyroid disorders, with vigilance and a willingness to work with our doctors, we can manage our thyroid health and get back to feeling better in no time. Reach out to your doctor today.