Are you a woman who’s feeling tired, run down, and depressed for no apparent reason? Have you been gaining weight despite watching your calorie intake? Before you attribute these symptoms to “getting older” or menopause you may want to consider the possibility of hypothyroidism, the medical term for an underactive thyroid gland. Thyroid disease in women is one of the most likely diseases to be missed by your family doctor. Why? Many doctors inadvertently attribute the symptoms of weight gain, cold intolerance, excessive fatigue and depression in women to the onset of menopause or assume the symptoms are stress related or a normal part of aging. This is of concern, as many women may be walking around with an underactive thyroid gland and not be aware of it. Women with thyroid disease can spend months feeling lethargic and depressed without knowing why.
What if you believe you have an underactive thyroid gland? The best course of action is to undergo a TSH test which measures levels of a biochemical called thyroid stimulating hormone, a hormone produced by the brain. TSH directly stimulates the thyroid gland to produce thyroid hormones which are critical to energy production and normal body metabolism.
This test is easily performed by drawing a tube of blood and, although not costly, should be covered by most insurance plans. This test, is highly accurate, but doesn’t pick up every case of thyroid disease in women. If there’s still a question as to the diagnosis, another test which measures levels of TRH, another hormone produced by the brain, can be performed which may pick up cases of thyroid disease in women missed by the TSH test.
Many endocrinologists recommend that women get a routine TSH test every five years once they reach the age of thirty five to screen for subclinical thyroid disease. You should also be tested if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Elevated cholesterol level
- Unexplained weight gain
- Lack of energy or chronic fatigue
- Unusually heavy or light menstrual bleeding
- Cold intolerance
- Problems with memory
- Unexplained dry skin
- Chronic insomnia
- A family history of thyroid disease
- Recent onset of menopause which can trigger thyroid disease in women
If you’re diagnosed with thyroid disease, you’ll be given thyroid supplementation which should help your sleep patterns, energy level, and weight return to normal levels. It can be gratifying to many women with thyroid disease to learn that their symptoms aren’t “all in their mind” and that they can be successfully treated.
If you are over the age of 35 or have any of the above symptoms of thyroid disease, ask your doctor to run a TSH test. If your doctor is unwilling to take your symptoms seriously, get a second opinion. Thyroid disease in women is quite common and can zap your energy, productivity, and zest for life if left untreated.