You may have gone your whole life with no thyroid issues to speak of, but when you got pregnant, all bets were off. You’re tired more than usual, you feel discomfort in your neck, your hair is brittle and your skin is dry. Why does thyroid disease seem to target pregnant women, and what can be done about it?
Your thyroid is a gland found in your neck that secretes the thyroid hormones that control how your body uses energy, makes proteins and how sensitive it is to other hormones. An under-performing thyroid gland results in hypothyroidism, and an over-performing thyroid gland results in hyperthyroidism.
Thyroid issues pop up in pregnancy due to your hormones, which behave differently than when you're not expecting a baby. Cammi Balleck, Ph.D. is a naturopath and is the author of a new book on hormone health titled Happy, the New Sexy! She has plenty of experience with thyroid issues and how they relate to pregnancy.
“Two pregnancy-related hormones, hCG and estrogen, cause increased thyroid hormone levels in the blood,” she explained. “Made by the placenta, hCG is similar to TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) and mildly stimulates the thyroid to produce more thyroid hormone. Increased estrogen produces higher levels of thyroxine, a protein that transports thyroid hormone in the blood.”
Dr. Balleck provided us with an easy-to-refer-to list of symptoms that may be warning signs of thyroid disease.
Fatigue: While fatigue is common in pregnancy, excessive fatigue may be a warning sign. “If you wake up feeling as if 8 or 10 hours of sleep a night is insufficient, or being unable to function all day without a nap, this can be a sign of thyroid problems,” explained Dr. Balleck.
Muscle and joint pain: These sorts of aches and pains can be normal during pregnancy, but it’s a good idea to get checked out just in case.
Hair and skin changes: “The hair and skin are particularly vulnerable to thyroid conditions,” explains Dr. Balleck. Brittle, dry hair that is prone to breakage or falling out is a warning sign of hypothyroidism, as is skin that becomes thick, coarse, dry or scaly.
Neck changes: Does your neck feel a little different? “A feeling of swelling in the neck, discomfort with turtlenecks or neckties, a hoarse voice or a visibly enlarged thyroid can all be signs of a ‘goiter ’— an enlarged thyroid gland that is a symptom of thyroid disease,” she told us.
Other common symptoms are depression, anxiety and digestion problems.
Once thyroid disease has been diagnosed (usually via a simple blood test), your physician will opt to treat hyperthyroidism with antithyroid medication. Hypothyroidism is treated with a synthetic thyroid hormone called thyroxine.
In addition, Dr. Balleck recommends that pregnant women affected by thyroid disease maintain a good diet, and be sure to include iodine, coconut oil, omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and B vitamins. She also suggests that pregnant women make it a point to avoid aspartame, non-fermented soy and, if possible, gluten.
Above all else, consult your physician if you suspect that your thyroid hormones are out of whack. Don’t self-diagnose — both the test and the treatment are easy, and can make a huge difference in your health, as well as the health of your little one.
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