Thyroid disorders are a significant health concern globally, affecting millions of individuals. However, they disproportionately impact women, with women being more likely to develop thyroid issues than men. Understanding thyroid health in women is not just a matter of addressing a common set of disorders; it’s about recognizing a critical aspect of women’s health that affects their overall well-being, fertility, and quality of life.
The Prevalence and Impact of Thyroid Disorders in Women
Thyroid disorders, primarily hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism, affect women at a rate nearly 5-8 times higher than men. The reasons for this disparity are not entirely understood but are believed to be linked to hormonal differences, autoimmune susceptibility, and perhaps even the unique hormonal fluctuations women experience throughout life, such as during menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause.
WAYS THE THYROID IMPACTS WOMEN:
- Reproductive Health: Thyroid disorders can affect menstrual cycles, fertility, and pregnancy outcomes. Hypothyroidism, for example, can lead to irregular menstrual cycles and ovulation issues, making it harder for women to conceive and increasing the risk of miscarriage.
- Mental Health: Both hypo- and hyperthyroidism can significantly impact mental health, leading to depression, anxiety, and mood swings. Given the already high rate of these conditions in women, ignoring thyroid health can exacerbate these issues.
- Cardiovascular Risk: Women with untreated thyroid disorders, especially older women, have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular diseases.
- Osteoporosis: Particularly in post-menopausal women, untreated hyperthyroidism can lead to an increased risk of osteoporosis and fractures.
- Quality of Life: The fatigue, weight gain or loss, hair loss, and other symptoms significantly affect women’s lives, self-esteem, and daily functioning. So to the dermatologist who told my patient that her hair loss concern was vain, you should be ashamed!
WHAT TO DO IF YOU SUSPECT A THYROID DISORDER:
- Educate Yourself: Understanding the symptoms and risks associated with thyroid disorders is the 1st step. Knowledge empowers you to advocate for your health. Unfortunately, patients have to be more educated nowadays due to the lack of response by healthcare providers in addressing their concerns. Always advocate for yourself and find a provider who takes your concerns seriously.
- Document Symptoms: Keep a detailed record of your symptoms, their frequency, and severity. This documentation can be crucial when discussing with healthcare providers.
- Seek Second Opinions: If your healthcare provider dismisses your concerns or you feel not heard, don’t hesitate to seek a second opinion from another provider, or a third or fourth or more!
- Request Speci f ic Tests: Be informed about the types of thyroid tests available (TSH, Free T4, Free T3, and thyroid antibodies) and request these speci f ic tests if you believe they are necessary. Many companies offer home tests you can do if your provider won’t order.
ADDRESSING HEALTHCARE PROVIDER DISMISSAL OR NORMAL TEST RESULTS:
- Normal Ranges and Individual Health: Understand that “normal” ranges for thyroid tests can vary, and what’s normal for the general population may not be optimal for you.
- Comprehensive Evaluation: Thyroid health isn’t just about hormone levels; it’s also about how you feel. Insist on a comprehensive evaluation that takes into account your symptoms, history, family history, and a timeline that looks back at when your menstrual cycle started. I run seven dif ferent thyroid levels alone in my of f ice.
- Grow Your Team: If your general practitioner isn’t responsive to your concerns, seek out a new member to add to your healthcare team who understands thyroid disorders or a functional medicine practitioner who takes a more holistic and integrative approach to health.
Thyroid health is a critical component of women’s overall well-being, affecting their mental, reproductive, and physical health. Despite its high prevalence, it often goes undiagnosed or dismissed, particularly in women who are frequently told their symptoms are due to stress or are imagined. Empowering women with knowledge about their thyroid health, advocating for comprehensive care, and fostering a healthcare environment that listens to and respects women’s health concerns are vital steps toward better health outcomes. As we continue to understand more about the thyroid and its impact on women’s health, it’s crucial that both patients and providers take these issues seriously, ensuring that every woman has the opportunity to live a healthy, vibrant life.