This month we will be spotlighting unique health issues for women. We begin with a look at thyroid disorders. Common in people of all ages, statistics suggest as many as eight out of every ten sufferers are women. Exactly why there are so many more women affected by this disorder remains unclear. Thyroid conditions are, for the most part, autoimmune in nature. This means that the body's natural disease fighting defenses attack the person's own healthy tissue, cells and organs. Women tend to have more autoimmune related health issues than men. This together with women's hormone fluctuations are factors that may come into play.
Symptoms of thyroid disorders can creep into a woman's active life, causing a loss of vitality and affect her overall health. It is important to understand which thyroid disorder is presenting, and whether autoimmune issues are involved. This is accomplished through simple blood tests, including the thyroid antibody test, easily ordered by a medical practitioner. Note that the medical practitioner may not routinely order the thyroid antibody test. If a woman suspects autoimmune problems, it is wise to request this test be included from the onset.
The thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland located in the lower neck, just below the Adam's apple. The simple explanations for a few of the most common disorders that affect this gland are:
- Hypothyroidism, or "underactive thyroid" that does not produce enough l-thyroxine hormone.
- Hyperthyroidism, or "overactive thyroid" that produces too much l-thyroxine hormone.
- Postpartum thyroiditis, a problem of thyroid inflammation following pregnancy and delivery.
- Thyroid cancer that sometimes occurs when there is a nodule, or lump found in the thyroid gland. Unfortunately, thyroid cancer is said to be the most common endocrine cancer and its incidence is increasing yearly.
Individual symptoms indicating a thyroid problem can vary, depending on the disorder and its severity. Some signs include fatigue, mood swings, weight gain or weight loss, fluid retention, aching joints and muscles, heart palpitations, and trouble sleeping.
The hormones in women's bodies are delicately balanced. This very important gland makes and stores hormones that help regulate body temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, and the rate food is converted into energy. The gland's functioning has a cascading influence on many other aspects of health and it is important to investigate the cause of symptoms you may be experiencing.
Here are eight steps to take if you suspect you have a thyroid problem:
1. Purchase a notebook or journal.
2. Make a list of any symptoms you are experiencing.
3. Assess risk factors such as a family history of thyroid or autoimmune problems and list those in your notebook. If you do not know your family medical history, this is a good time to investigate.
4. Begin to keep a health journal. Keep notes related to symptoms and other factors that may be influencing how you feel. (For example, some people feel worse in winter weather.) For women, include notes regarding menstrual cycle, premenopausal or menopausal hormone fluctuations.
5. Start to educate yourself about thyroid disorders. There are many good resources in books and online. Thyroid issues require the patient's attention and monitoring. Knowing your body will help you determine ways to live well with this disorder. The more you understand about this complicated condition, the better.
6. See your medical practitioner as soon as possible and take your journal to the appointment. Participate in decisions about your medical care. Get blood tests, including a thyroid antibodies test. Learn to understand your results. If you are diagnosed with a thyroid disorder, tests will be performed routinely throughout each year to be sure your medication is working properly.
7. Develop good intuition regarding your health and trust yourself. Since the symptoms of thyroid conditions are similar to those of other health issues, it is easy for you or your doctor to explain them away. If you are not feeling well even after medication, your health warrants further attention. Look for community and/or online support groups to help you to stay positive and have a solid foundation from which to overcome the symptoms of thyroid disorders.
8. Try meditation and yoga to relieve stress. There are yoga postures that may be beneficial in overall treatment for thyroid disorder. Yoga can offer relief from symptoms, but it is important to note that yoga does not cure autoimmune thyroid problems. Most thyroid disorders need to be treated by a medical practitioner, however yoga may be used in addition to prescribed medical treatment. (See this week's article, “Yoga Postures to Help Alleviate Thyroid Symptoms and Increase Vitality
”, for Dahn Yoga postures that may be beneficial in overall treatment for thyroid disorder.)