Undiagnosed thyroid problem can increase infertility risk: Watch out for these warning signs

Women are four times more susceptible to thyroid disorders than men. ©Shutterstock.

Undiagnosed thyroid dysfunction can interfere with ovulation and make it difficult for you to conceive. Consult a doctor immediately if you experience any of these symptoms.

Undiagnosed and untreated thyroid conditions are identified as a major cause of infertility among women of reproductive age. And as per estimates, over 20 per cent women in India live with an undiagnosed thyroid problem.

Thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland in the neck that produces thyroid hormones, which regulate your body's metabolism. Thyroid disorders are conditions that arise when this gland produces too much (hyperthyroidism) or not little (hypothyroidism) of these hormones. Women are four times more susceptible to thyroid disorders than men.

Thyroid problem and infertility

According to experts, low levels of thyroid hormone can interfere with ovulation (release of an egg from your ovary) and impair fertility in women. Hypothyroidism may result from certain autoimmune or pituitary disorders, which can also impair fertility. Undiagnosed and untreated hypothyroidism can also lead to miscarriage. In addition, low thyroid levels can make ovaries produce less progesterone, a female hormone that regulates the menstrual cycle and is crucial for pregnancy. This can lead to symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), which affects about 70 per cent of women.

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The most common cause of an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) is Graves' disease, an autoimmune disorder that causes your immune system to attack the thyroid and make more thyroid hormone. Untreated hyperthyroidism can lead to irregular periods and make it difficult for you to conceive. If hyperthyroidism is not under control, it may increase risk of miscarriage in the early stages of pregnancy. Hyperthyroidism during pregnancy can also lead to complications like high blood pressure, poor growth of the baby and premature delivery. In men, hyperthyroidism can affect sperm count, resulting in reduced fertility.

Symptoms you should not ignore

With early diagnosis and treatment of thyroid problems, you can avert the possible complications and increase your chances of pregnancy. Consult a doctor immediately if you experience any of these symptoms.

Signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism include:

  • Fatigue
  • Poor concentration
  • Dry skin
  • Constipation
  • Feeling cold
  • Fluid retention
  • Muscle and joint aches
  • Depression
  • Prolonged or excessive menstrual bleeding

Symptoms and signs of hyperthyroidism include;

  • Tremor
  • Nervousness
  • Fast heart rate
  • Fatigue
  • Intolerance for heat
  • Increase in bowel movements
  • Excessive sweating
  • Weight loss
  • Concentration problems

Diagnosis and treatment

Besides thorough medical history and physical exam, you doctor may conduct specialized tests to diagnose thyroid disorders such as TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) test, chest X-ray, T4 or thyroxin test. Blood tests are typically done to measure thyroid hormones. Thyroid dysfunctions are becoming increasingly common among women. Luckily, most cases are not life threatening and can be well managed with proper diagnosis and treatment, a healthy lifestyle, weight loss, adequate sleep, regular exercise, and a balanced diet. The treatment may depend on a number of variables like the underlying cause of your thyroid problem, age, size of the thyroid gland and the presence of coexisting medical illnesses. In some conditions, you may require surgery.

If you're planning a baby, get a blood test before you conceive to see if you have any thyroid problems. Don't worry! Your chances of becoming pregnant will improve dramatically once your thyroid hormone levels are back to normal.

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