The thyroid is a small gland, but it’s hugely important for health. This gland secretes thyroid hormones, which control energy use and metabolism throughout the whole body. When the levels of thyroid hormones are too high or too low, this can cause a variety of health issues in both male and female patients.
When thyroid hormone levels are too high, this is known as hyperthyroidism. When the levels are too low, this is known as hypothyroidism. Either type of thyroid hormone imbalance can cause symptoms throughout the whole body and can have an impact on many different aspects of your health. The symptoms are generally similar whether you’re a woman or a man, although there are certain specific symptoms that are specific to female patients.
What are the symptoms of thyroid problems in females?
Whether the patient is male or female, thyroid symptoms are generally similar. However, there are some symptoms that are specific to women.
In people with hyperthyroidism (women or men), the following symptoms are common:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Heart palpitations or irregular heartbeat
- Unexplained weight loss
- Heat intolerance (feeling too hot when others feel comfortable)
- Muscle weakness
Hypothyroidism symptoms in females or males may include:
- Weight gain
- Cold intolerance (feeling too cold when others feel comfortable)
- Dry skin
- Hair loss
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Does thyroid medication affect the menstrual cycle?
Thyroid disorders in females who are premenopausal may affect the woman’s menstrual cycle. The effects are different for different types of thyroid problems. When it comes to hyperthyroidism and the menstrual cycle, a woman will commonly have periods that are irregular or even absent. If the periods are present, the bleeding may be very light.
Hypothyroidism can have varying effects on menstruation in a woman. Some females experience very heavy periods, while others have periods that are irregular or even absent. Treatment for hypothyroidism usually involves taking replacement thyroid hormone. Once the right dose is found, these thyroid side effects in female patients often resolve. The menstrual period often becomes more regular again, and fertility may return.
What are the signs of thyroid issues in women on a blood test?
The only way to know whether you have abnormal levels of thyroid hormones is to take a blood test. In general, there are a few different types of tests that may be useful in detecting thyroid issues:
- Free T4 and T3, which measures the levels of thyroid hormones in the blood. The hormones are considered “free” if they aren’t bound to a carrier protein in the blood, which means that they’re available to act on the body’s tissues.
- Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), which is produced by the pituitary gland and stimulates the thyroid to make T4 and T3.
- Antithyroid antibodies, which may be present in those with Hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune condition in which the body’s own immune system mistakenly attacks the thyroid.
- Thyroid stimulating immunoglobulin (TSI), which is a specific type of antibody that acts on the thyroid and stimulates it to produce thyroid hormones.
These tests are not specific to female patients; the same tests are used for a woman or a man who is having thyroid symptoms.
One way to get your thyroid tested is to go to a laboratory to get blood drawn for your thyroid test; this will generally require that you visit your doctor first to discuss your symptoms. They will then order the thyroid test, and if the results are abnormal, then you’ll visit your doctor again to discuss treatment options.
Alternatively, you can order a home testing kit that uses a blood sample obtained via a fingerprick. With the home testing kit, if the test comes back abnormal, you’ll usually have an appointment with a medical professional by telemedicine to discuss your treatment options.
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How do women get PCOS from hypothyroidism?
Polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS, is a common condition that affects a woman’s ovaries and hormonal balance. There is an association between PCOS and hypothyroidism, but the exact nature of the link between the two has not yet been established. Researchers don’t believe that hypothyroidism directly causes PCOS.
However, it’s known that thyroid hormones can act on the ovary, which could interfere with its function and lead to the development of cysts. In addition, thyroid disorders may be caused by problems with the pituitary gland, and imbalances in thyroid hormones also affect the pituitary. Pituitary issues can affect the ovaries, since the pituitary secretes hormones that act on the ovaries. Women with PCOS also have higher rates of autoimmune disorders (such as Hashimoto’s disease), and so it may be that PCOS can lead to hypothyroidism, rather than the other way around.
Can Graves disease cause irregular periods?
Graves disease is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism, or high thyroid hormone levels. There is a link between Graves disease and menstruation irregularities. Like with other causes of hyperthyroidism, women with Graves disease may have periods that are very light, or they may be irregular or even stop altogether.
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Hyperthyroidism. American Thyroid Association. http://www.thyroid.org/hyperthyroidism/. Accessed 24 May 2022.
Hypothyroidism. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/12120-hypothyroidism. Accessed 24 May 2022.
Hypothyroidism and infertility: any connection? Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/female-infertility/expert-answers/hypothyroidism-and-infertility/faq-20058311. Accessed 24 May 2022.
Jacobsen MH, Howards PP, et al. Thyroid hormones and menstrual cycle function in a longitudinal cohort of premenopausal women. Paediatr Perinat Epidemiol. 2018 May; 32(3): 225–234. doi: 10.1111/ppe.12462
Krassas GE, Pontikides N, et al. Disturbances of menstruation in hypothyroidism. Clin Endocrinol (Oxf) 1999 May;50(5):655-9. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2265.1999.00719.x.
Singla R, Gupta Y, et al. Thyroid disorders and polycystic ovary syndrome: An emerging relationship. Indian J Endocrinol Metab. 2015 Jan-Feb; 19(1): 25–29. doi: 10.4103/2230-8210.146860