Why Are Thyroid Problems More Common In Women?
- Dr. Sreelekha Daruvuri
- 2 Min Read
- Fact Checked
Besides the heart, brain, kidneys and liver, the thyroid gland is also important for the the normal functioning of the body. The butterfly shaped gland that is wrapped around the windpipe just below the Adam’s apple and is one of the important endocrine organs. It is also the only gland that can be felt on the body’s surface. There are various thyroid problems or thyroid disorders that can occur with low thyroid hormones, an overactive thyroid, or even thyroid swelling. This article though, will delve into a much more specific topic of why thyroid problems are more common in women. Did you know that women are 5-8 times more prone to developing thyroid disorders than men and one in eight women can develop a thyroid disorder during her lifetime.
What is the function of thyroid Gland?
The function of the thyroid gland itself is governed by Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) which is produced by the pituitary gland in the brain. The gland releases T3 and T4 hormones which affects almost every cell present in the body. Their main function is to regulate the body’s metabolic processes including carbs, fats and proteins thus modulating growth and development of the body. In children, thyroid hormones also affect the development of the brain along with physical growth. If thyroid problems aren’t treated in children, it can lead to mental retardation.
It is estimated that 200 million people in the world have some form of thyroid disease. When the gland makes too much of thyroid hormones – this condition is called Hyperthyroidism and the symptoms can be unexplained weight loss, increased hunger, irregular heart beats, protruded eyes, muscle weakness, irritability, anxiety, sensitivity to heat. On the flip side, if the thyroid gland makes too little thyroid hormone, it is called Hypothyroidism and the symptoms include weight gain, lethargy, body pains, constipation, sensitivity to cold irregular periods, hair fall and dry skin.
Why are thyroid problems more common in women?
- The most common issue observed in women is Hypothyroidism and this risk increases with age. The exact reason why women are more prone is not known but genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors do play a role. Most of the thyroid disorders are due to autoimmunity, meaning our own immune cells attack our body’s cells. These autoimmune disorders can lead to underactive Thyroid or overactive thyroid – the former is more common.
- Another reason is that there is an interplay between thyroid hormones and female hormones especially Estrogen and Prolactin. Thyroid problems can occur at any time but are more common during/after pregnancy and menopause where there is fluctuation of female hormones.
- Genetic factors also play a role – Mutations causing Thyroid disorders are more common in women. Lifestyle and environmental factors like iodine deficiency, stress, lack of exercise and smoking can also increase the risk of thyroid disorders.
Around 60 percent of individuals are not aware that they have thyroid issues. The American Thyroid organization have given guidelines that thyroid hormones are to be checked every 5 years in women who have crossed 35 years of age. Regular check ups are needed for women who have history of Type 1 Diabetes, anemia and family history of thyroid disease. Treatment depends on age, gender and pregnancy status. Many of the effects and risks can be managed with the right treatment. It is crucial to get in touch with a doctor if one should experience any symptoms of thyroid disease as it can lead to many health issues including fertility.