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The link between thyroid disorders and fertility
September 24, 2020
Infertility has long plagued both men and women alike. It is clinically defined as the inability to conceive an embryo after a year or more of engaging in unprotected sex. Historically, being unable to get pregnant was the end of young couples’ dreams of parenthood. Fortunately, that is no longer true, and many couples who consider themselves reproductively challenged go on to start healthy and loving families. Due to modern medicine, we are more alert than ever about the causes of infertility, and how to treat them. Occasionally, the cause of female infertility in particular can be traced back to the thyroid, a butterfly shaped gland that sits at the base of the anterior portion of the neck.
· Thyroid disorders can be a possible cause of infertility in women of reproductive age. Treatment of the disorders may result in a higher chance of conception for these women.
· These types of disorders can often go undiagnosed for long periods of time; speak to your healthcare provider or primary care physician if you suspect you may have thyroid dysfunction and are trying to get pregnant.
How is the thyroid related to fertility?
For a brief refresher in human anatomy, the thyroid is a key organ involved in the endocrine system, which is a group of glands that regulates hormones, sexual function, reproduction, and mood (amongst other things). The integral role it plays in hormonal function makes it necessary for successful conception in women of reproductive age. Therefore, disorders of the thyroid (which will be explored below) can make it difficult for women to conceive. A study done in the United Kingdom shows that one in five women (out of the 19,000 studied) who suffered from miscarriages or had problems conceiving also suffered from mild thyroid dysfunction. There are two primary types of thyroid issues: hyperthyroidism, or an overactive thyroid, and hypothyroidism, an underactive thyroid.
Effects of Hypothyroidism on Fertility
On the other hand, hypothyroidism is a condition where your body does not produce enough of the crucial hormones the thyroid secretes. This usually (but not always) goes hand in hand with co-diagnoses such as autoimmune diseases or radiation treatment and can be connected to the use of certain medications such as lithium or interleukin-2.
Hypothyroidism can be a problem stemming from issues with the pituitary gland (the main hormonal gland in the endocrine system) not telling the thyroid how much of a certain hormone to make. Since there are no primary symptoms of hypothyroidism, it is important to discuss any and all surgeries you may have had in the past, medications you are currently or formerly have been prescribed, and familial history of thyroid disease with your healthcare provider.
Effects of Hyperthyroidism on Fertility
Hyperthyroidism is a condition where the body produces too much of a hormone called thyroxine. Women in particular are at risk for this type of disorder. Unlike hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism can manifest itself in a myriad of different symptoms, including but not limited to:
· Rapid or irregular heartbeat
· Trouble conceiving
· Changes in menstrual cycle
It can be difficult to pinpoint whether or not these symptoms are a byproduct of an overactive thyroid, as they can mimic symptoms that are common in many other health issues as well. If you suspect you may be suffering from hyperthyroidism, and are actively trying to conceive, speak to your healthcare provider to see what steps to take next.
What is the treatment for thyroid issues?
Thyroid health screenings become a part of routine check-ups once a woman reaches the age of 35. However, women with fertility issues and women with a history of miscarriages/early pregnancy loss should also have their thyroid screened frequently, regardless of age. Thankfully, women who are unable to conceive due to thyroid dysfunctions generally have successful pregnancies (barring any other interfering health issues) when their thyroids are treated correctly.
Hypothyroidism is treated with a daily pill, usually ingested after breakfast in order to replace the hormones that are unable to be produced naturally. Treatment for hyperthyroidism is a bit more complicated, potentially involving different types of medications, radioactive iodine treatment, and in extreme cases, surgery. Fortunately for many women of child-bearing age who suffer from thyroid dysfunction, treatment is ordinarily considered standard and can possibly lead to the family that they have always wanted.
Overall, your thyroid can play an important role in both fertility issues and treatment. It is important to speak to your doctor in order to discern whether or not your thyroid is an issue relating to infertility.
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