What are thyroid disorders?
Thyroid disorders are conditions that affect the thyroid gland, a butterfly-shaped gland in the front of the neck. The thyroid has important roles to regulate numerous metabolic processes throughout the body. Different types of thyroid disorders affect either its structure or function.
The thyroid gland is located below the Adam’s apple wrapped around the trachea (windpipe). A thin area of tissue in the gland’s middle, known as the isthmus, joins the two thyroid lobes on each side. The thyroid uses iodine to produce vital hormones. Thyroxine, also known as T4, is the primary hormone produced by the gland. After delivery via the bloodstream to the body’s tissues, a small portion of the T4 released from the gland is converted to triiodothyronine (T3), which is the most active hormone.
The function of the thyroid gland is regulated by a feedback mechanism involving the brain. When thyroid hormone levels are low, the hypothalamus in the brain produces a hormone known as thyrotropin releasing hormone (TRH) that causes the pituitary gland (located at the base of the brain) to release thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). TSH stimulates the thyroid gland to release more T4.
Since the thyroid gland is controlled by the pituitary gland and hypothalamus, disorders of these tissues can also affect thyroid function and cause thyroid problems.
How do thyroid problems affect women?
Women are more likely than men to have thyroid disease. One in eight women will develop thyroid problems during her lifetime.1 In women, thyroid diseases can cause:
- Problems with your menstrual period. Your thyroid helps control your menstrual cycle. Too much or too little thyroid hormone can make your periods very light, heavy, or irregular. Thyroid disease also can cause your periods to stop for several months or longer, a condition called amenorrhea. If your body’s immune system causes thyroid disease, other glands, including your ovaries, may be involved. This can lead to early menopause (before age 40).
- Problems getting pregnant. When thyroid disease affects the menstrual cycle, it also affects ovulation. This can make it harder for you to get pregnant.
- Problems during pregnancy. Thyroid problems during pregnancy can cause health problems for the mother and the baby.
Sometimes, symptoms of thyroid problems are mistaken for menopause symptoms. Thyroid disease, especially hypothyroidism, is more likely to develop after menopause.