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Thyroid Series (Part 1): Assessing Thyroid Function in the Perinatal Population

Updated: Nov 1, 2023

In this blog series, we will discuss your thyroid gland, how it functions normally and what happens if it is doing too much or too little.

This essential endocrine gland produces and secretes a number of hormones in your body which can have an impact on almost all body functions and processes. In later blogs, I'll also cover the thyroid's role in fertility, the menstrual cycle, and thyroid changes before, during, and after pregnancy. So let’s start with the basics!

What is the thyroid gland?

The primary function of the thyroid is to regulate your metabolism, or how your body consumes energy. Hormones and neurotransmitters communicate instructions to the thyroid from the brain, specifically the hypothalamus and anterior pituitary gland. Sometimes, your thyroid doesn’t work properly. Due to the complexity of the process, any issues with the hormonal cascade or thyroid gland signaling may have adverse effects on the body. These conditions are common and treatable. About 5% of women experience conditions where the thyroid is either overactive (hyperthyroidism) or underactive (hypothyroidism). (1)

What conditions or disorders typically affect the thyroid?

The two main types of conditions are Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) and Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid). An estimated 20 million people in the United States are thought to have some form of thyroid dysfunction, making thyroid illness relatively common. Compared to men and persons designated male at birth (AMAB), women and people assigned female at birth (AFAB) are around five to eight times more likely to be diagnosed with a thyroid problem.

  • Hyperthyroidism is a condition where the thyroid is producing too much thyroid hormone. It might develop independently of other diseases or as a result of them. Unexpected weight loss, heart palpitations, anxiety, exhaustion, muscle weakness, and diarrhea are common symptoms. In women, it might also show up as mild or nonexistent menstruation. (2)

  • Hypothyroidism on the other hand, refers to thyroid hormone underproduction. Weight gain, dry skin, a slower heartbeat, constipation, and joint and muscle discomfort are all symptoms. The possibility of having hypothyroidism is enhanced during pregnancy. (3)

Hypothyroidism during pregnancy

The mother provides thyroid hormones to the fetus during the first few months of pregnancy. A crucial role for thyroid hormones in healthy brain development. If properly controlled, often by increasing the amount of thyroid hormone, women with hypothyroidism can have healthy, unaffected babies. Current recommendations are to verbally screen all women at the initial prenatal visit for any history of thyroid dysfunction or thyroid hormone medication.

Hyperthyroidism during pregnancy

Pregnancy does not seem to aggravate hyperthyroidism or make treatment more difficult for women with this illness. Healthy thyroid glands function normally during pregnancy. Less than 1% of women have excessive thyroid function during pregnancy. It is always best to plan for pregnancy and to consult with your physician to ensure your thyroid status and treatment are optimized prior to becoming pregnant and monitored throughout your pregnancy.

How can I ensure my thyroid gland is functioning properly?

The first-line test for checking the health of your thyroid is a blood test that measures your levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). Both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can be detected by this test. A TSH blood test's typical range is 0.5 to 5.0 mIU/L (milli-international units per liter). However, this can differ from lab to test and depending on a few things including age and pregnancy. The thyroid hormones T4 and T3 can also be measured in your blood by your doctor. If your test results are abnormal, your doctor could advise getting an imaging test like a thyroid scan or thyroid ultrasound, which uses small amounts of a safe, radioactive material to create images of your thyroid, or a thyroid ultrasound.

Maintain a diet that is low in sugar and processed foods. Inflammation brought on by too much sugar may make thyroid hypothyroidism symptoms worse. Finding ways to reduce your stress is beneficial as it’s been shown that stress can cause thyroid hormone resistance. Exercise three to five times a week. Increasing your muscle mass can boost your metabolism and help to avoid weight gain or lethargy. Also, keep your weight within a healthy range as your body will need more thyroid hormone as your body weight increases.

In Conclusion

As you can see, the thyroid is a powerful gland. Small hormonal imbalances can cause big changes in the body, and in your physical and mental health. If you believe you may be exhibiting some of these thyroid related issues, talk to your provider today about having blood work to assess your thyroid function. Please note: This blog is for educational purposes only, and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease.

By: Dr. Megan Stavalone

Perinatal Certified Chiropractor at ANH Wellness

Disclaimer: "The information including but not limited to text, graphics, images, and other material contained on this website is for informational purposes only. No material on this site is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment."

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