What causes thyroid problem in females?

What is thyroid gland? The thyroid gland is a small W-shape gland found in front of the trachea (air duct). It functions to produce the thyroid hormones which regulate the body’s metabolism. When we say thyroid problems, it is fairly to say that women will be shown to have a higher incidence compared to men in many of the pathologies. The reason is unknown for many of the causes.

What type of problems can a thyroid have?

Generally, we can divide the medical problems of the thyroid into two categories namely:

  1. Hormone problems - either hypothyroid (low thyroid) or hyperthyroid (high thyroid)
  2. Tissue growth - benign or malignant change of the thyroid tissue

A) Hypothyroidism

This is a common thyroid problem faced by most women. A hypothyroid patient will typically have symptoms such as intolerance to cold, weight gain despite eating less, feeling down, constipation, tiredness and non-stop menstruation. Other subtle signs include the puffy face, dry skin and hair and bloated stomach.

There are many causes that can lead to hypothyroidism in women such as post-delivery, an auto-immune condition, viral infection, iodine deficiency and side effects of medications. Other causes which becoming more common nowadays are post-thyroid surgery and the use of radio-iodine. All these factors should be addressed before the patient started to receive hormone therapy.

In order to treat hypothyroidism, the patient can be given iodine (if iodine deficient), thyroid hormone and if needed a course of steroid to prevent the immune system causing the hypothyroid problem.

B) Hyperthyroidism

Hyperthyroidism can be more problematic than hypothyroid as the patient will tend to “feel” it than that of hypothyroidism. Hyperthyroidism happens when there is over secretion of thyroid hormone into the system. This, in turn, will make the body going into overdrive with symptoms such as diarrhoea, sweating, palpitations, tremor and increase appetite with losing weight.

There are a few causes of hyperthyroidism besides malignancy such as Grave’s Disease, Toxic Multinodular Goitre, drug induce hyperthyroidism and auto-immune cause. The principle of treating hyperthyroidism is quite simple. Three ways of treating hyperthyroidism are:

  • Block and replace - by using anti-thyroid medications to totally block the thyroid hormone production and artificially replace it with thyroid hormone titrated to the optimum reading.
  • Radiological method - destroying the thyroid gland without undergoing invasive surgery
  • Surgery - a method to remove the gland and replace the deficit hormone with medication

C) The abnormal tissue growth problem

Besides the irregularities of the hormone, another quite common problem in regards to the thyroid in women is the abnormal tissue growth either benign growth or malignant. The latter refers to cancerous growth while the former is referring to non-cancerous growth. These growths of tissue can cause either hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism and do not necessarily cause the latter even though the glands are increasing in size.

The symptoms can be that of hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism with additional symptoms such as difficulty breathing and swallowing, weight loss, fever and difficulty in sleeping. Clear medical investigations are needed with people presenting with a lump on their throat to out-rule the possibility of thyroid cancer.

Meanwhile, for the treatment, it generally comes to either surgery or radiotherapy with additional hormonal or anti-thyroid therapy. There are several risk factors for developing abnormal thyroid growth such as lack of iodine in the diet and exposure to the radioactive environment for a long time.

In summary, thyroid problems are plenty and the quicker they are detected, the better the outcome of the treatment generally. If you or anyone you know have a thyroid problem, ask a doctor now before it is getting worse.

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