If you’re a woman experiencing random health issues but your doctor keeps telling you that you’re in perfect health, you may need to have your thyroid checked. Talk to your doctor about having your T3 and T4 numbers evaluated. You may have hypothyroidism.
Hypothyroidism (having an underactive thyroid) is a condition in which the thyroid gland does not produce enough of certain important hormones. According to Dr. Rallie McAllister, MD, MPH hypothyroidism is challenging to diagnose. Thyroid disease can mimic dozens of other conditions. There are countless combinations of signs and symptoms. Therefore, hypothyroidism may go undiagnosed for years. The two major risks factors for someone suffering from hypothyroidism are being over age 50 and being female.
In its early stages hypothyroidism may not cause any symptoms. Yet, if left untreated the condition can cause serious health problems. Obesity, infertility, and heart disease are a few of the serious health issues that may be faced by those that suffer with hypothyroidism.
Women have known for years that having a baby can change or alter their hormonal cycles. Because the thyroid is responsible for producing a hormone, some women develop hypothyroidism after pregnancy. It’s referred to as “postpartum thyroiditis“.
Hypothyroidism often accompanies menopause. During menopause the ovaries begin to fail. Estrogen and progesterone levels fluctuate. This can affect other hormones and glands in the body. Because hypothyroidism frequently occurs around the same time as menopause, it’s hard for a patient or doctor to identify symptoms as being caused by a thyroid problem.
Some of the early symptoms that may indicate hypothyroidism are:
- Being more sensitive to cold than others
- Thinning and/or brittle hair
- Brittle fingernails
- Dry skin
- Joint or muscle pain
- Weight gain or difficulty losing weight
- Changes in menstrual cycle
- Feeling sluggish or sleepy
In more advanced or extreme cases of hypothyroidism symptoms may include:
- Allergies that suddenly appear or get worse
- Swelling of the neck in the area of the thyroid gland
- Puffy hands and feet
- Memory loss
- Slowing or slurring of speech
- Bruising and clotting problems
- Elevated levels of LDL cholesterol
- Heightened risk of heart disease
Inflammation of the thyroid is the most common cause of hypothyroidism. A disease called Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is a condition in which the immune system malfunctions and attacks the thyroid gland, thus causing inflammation and damage. Other causes of hypothyroidism include birth defects; radiation of the neck, face, or head; surgical removal of part of the thyroid gland, or infection of the thyroid gland. There are also some drugs that can cause the condition.
Iodine is a mineral that is essential for proper production of thyroid hormones. Dr. McAllister states that Americans who don’t use iodized table salt are at risk for low iodine intake. This increases the chances of developing thyroid disease. Iodized salt, introduced in the 1920s, is fortified to reduce the risk of low iodine intake. Because more and more people are using less table salt in their effort to reduce sodium in their diets, iodine deficiency is becoming a problem in the U.S.
Seafood, which is high in iodine content, is good for hypothyroidism. Sea caught fish and shrimp are iodine rich. Various sea vegetables (kelp, wakame, and nori) are also good sources. Cheddar and cottage cheese are good sources of iodine. Breads and breakfast cereals are often fortified with iodine.
People with hypothyroidism should avoid foods that interfere with the thyroid’s function. Some of these foods are: broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, mustard greens, spinach, turnips, soybeans, peanuts, pine nuts, and cassava. Dr. McAllister recommends that patients with hypothyroidism talk to a doctor before eating soy products because there is some evidence that soy may interfere with the absorption of thyroid hormones. Iron supplements and caffeine may also interfere with thyroid medications.
There is no known “cure” for hypothyroidism. However, it can be treated with synthetic thyroid medications. Levothyroxin is one of the most popular thyroid medicines. There are also some natural products that can be used.
Rallie McAllister, MD, MPH is a family physician in Lexington, KY and coauthor of The Mommy MD Guide to Pregnancy and Birth and The Mommy MD Guide to Your Baby’s First Year. Visit The MommyMDGuides website for more medical tips, simple solutions to every day problems, and product recommendations.
The information included in this article is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation, or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan.