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Hypothyroidism and Pregnancy

 

Hypothyroidism is a harmful condition found in many people all across the world. As the name implies, hypothyroidism is a disease of the thyroid gland, in which it severely limits the supply of thyroid hormones to the rest of the body. The thyroid gland itself is located in the neck, below the larynx. Its function is to regulate body metabolism, develop the brain, produce protein, control energy consumption, and balance the sensitivity to other hormones. The two main hormones produced by the thyroid gland are T3 or triiodothyronine and T4 or thyroxine. The importance of the thyroid is paramount; therefore a disease like hypothyroidism should be taken seriously. This disease is most prevalent in pregnant women. In order to understand the reason behind this, one most understand of the effects of hypothyroidism and pregnancy.

Symptoms of Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism, like any other disease, has many symptoms. Because it limits thyroid hormone production, many bodily functions are slowed down or weakened. These symptoms include:

  • inability to withstand cold temperatures
  • fatigue
  • increased pain in joints and muscles
  • weight gain
  • slowed heart rate
  • skin dryness
  • depression
  • decreased sweating
  • memory problems, depression, or problems concentrating
  • constipation
  • yellowish skin
  • slow body movement

These symptoms develop at a slow rate. While not immediate at first, they will be felt given a long period of time.

Symptoms of Hypothyroidism in Women

Before understanding the link between hypothyroidism and pregnancy, one must first learn of the effects in women. The symptoms listed previously also play a large role here. The difference lies in the specific symptoms in women only:

  • decreased sense of energy
  • headaches
  • brittle nails
  • brittle hair
  • irritated scalp
  • hair loss
  • abnormal periods
  • breast milk formation
  • calcium metabolism difficulties
  • sleeping more than average
  • diminished sex drive
  • puffiness in face and extremities
  • hoarseness
  • bruising/clotting problems
  • elevated levels of LDL (the “bad” cholesterol) and heightened risk of heart disease
  • allergies that suddenly appear or get worse
  • persistent cold sores, boils, or breakouts
  • tingling sensation in wrists and hands that mimics carpal tunnel syndrome
  • memory loss, fuzzy thinking, difficulty following conversation or train of thought
  • slowness or slurring of speech
  • formation of goiter, which is an increase in size of the thyroid that is externally visible (source)

 

Causes of Hypothyroidism in Women

Naturally, the effects of hypothyroidism in women play a key factor when considering both hypothyroidism and pregnancy. Women on the whole are much more susceptible to hypothyroidism than men. It is estimated that women are six times more likely than men to contract this disease. There are several reasons why:

Genetics – Parents who either have autosomal dominant (meaning they have hypothyroidism) or autosomal recessive (they do not have the disease, but are carriers for it) could easily pass hypothyroidism down to their children

Excessive iodine usage – Having too much iodine may actually trigger thyroid disease despite the fact it is an element mean to make thyroid hormones. This could cause the hormone production to go into overdrive

Radiation exposure – Unhealthy levels of radiation can increase cases of thyroid disease. Incidents such as the nuclear bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima and the nuclear meltdown in Chernobyl can all cause radiation poisoning as well as create a breeding ground for hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism and Pregnancy in Women

Hypothyroidism in pregnant women is not uncommon. It typically arises within the first year of pregnancy. It estimated that about 10 to 30 percent of pregnancies will have hypothyroidism. The main cause of hypothyroidism in pregnant women is Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, which is also the primary cause of most cases of this disease. The many symptoms and effects associated with hypothyroidism and pregnancy are:

  • decreased intellect
  • hoarseness of voice
  • goiter
  • insomnia
  • prolonged relaxation of deep tendon reflexes
  • concentration difficulties
  • fatigue
  • constipation
  • intolerance to cold
  • cramps in muscles and joints
  • hair loss
  • dry skin
  • carpel tunnel syndrome
  • weight gain

 

The effects associated with the baby itself may include:

  • miscarriage
  • prematurity
  • stillbirth
  • postpartum hemorrhage
  • low birth weight
  • placental abruption
  • intrauterine growth restriction
  • mental retardation
  • stunted growth

Treatment for Hypothyroidism and Pregnancy

The goal of treating any case of hypothyroidism is to maintain a steady level of hormones. Treatment involves replacing thyroid hormones with levothyroxine until Thyroid Stimulating Hormone levels are stable. TSH levels are followed by each trimester of the pregnancy due to the demands of pregnancy necessitating an increase in dosage. Should the cause of hypothyroidism be low iodine levels, a supplement should be administered.

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