Regular screening for thyroid function is not always routinely done, and sadly an underperforming thyroid may be the cause of a host of unpleasant symptoms and side effects. Namely, decreased fertility or infertility. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases found that out of every one hundred people nearly five are diagnosed with hypothyroidism.
How can a small gland in your neck predominantly responsible for regulating your metabolism negatively affect your chances of conceiving? Let's discuss.
Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland near the base of your neck. It is responsible for producing two hormones, T3 and T4. These hormones help your body to maintain and regulate your metabolism. The thyroid is stimulated by another endocrine gland, the pituitary gland, which releases thyroid-stimulating hormone or TSH.
The pituitary gland is quite sensitive to T3 and T4. If it determines that there is not enough thyroid hormone in your bloodstream then it will release more TSH. If an abundance of T3 and T4 are secreted than TSH will taper off.
If too much T3 or T4 hormone is secreted your body goes into a sort of overdrive and you may experience constant hunger, heart palpitations, tremor, and frequent perspiration. If too little thyroid hormone is produced your body slows down and you will likely feel fatigued, may have weight gain, constipation, and cold intolerance.
An underperforming thyroid leads to quite a few undesirable symptoms but it may also contribute to a breakdown of other bodily functions. In addition to keeping your metabolism in check, your thyroid also helps regulate your menstrual cycle. When your thyroid is underperforming, it may not be sending the appropriate signals to your ovaries to release an egg, leading to poor fertility.
The connection between your thyroid and your fertility is another hormone, luteinizing hormone or LH. LH is responsible for rising and falling throughout your menstrual cycle, usually over the course of one month. When LH peaks it signals to your ovaries to release an egg, this is known as ovulation.
As a result of your thyroid not releasing enough hormones, LH levels remain low and do not peak...therefore ovulation will not likely occur or will not occur with any regularity. An underperforming thyroid can throw off your menstrual cycle, making it hard to determine when ovulation will occur and in turn difficult to achieve pregnancy.
A study conducted by Harvard Medical School found that even women with a thyroid functioning on the low end of normal may experience unexplained infertility. Unexplained infertility is defined as not being able to conceive after twelve months of trying and it affects ten to thirty percent of couples dealing with infertility.
A little more than twenty-five percent of the women in the study who were diagnosed with unexplained infertility also had thyroid levels at the low end of the normal range. The physicians who conducted the study noted that this was not necessarily a cause and effect relationship but was an association.
Therefore, they are unsure why a thyroid functioning within the normal range, albeit low, correlates with unexplained fertility. Furthermore, they could not confirm or deny that treatment for an underperforming thyroid would increase chances of conception.
The good news is that studies such as the one above may help to make thyroid screening more routine, especially with women experiencing infertility or repeat miscarriages. If women suffering from hypothyroidism were able to be diagnosed earlier, they could be treated sooner and hopefully on the path to a successful pregnancy.
Hypothyroidism, or low levels of thyroid hormone, is typically treated with medication. A synthetic thyroid hormone medication may be prescribed. This medication will likely need to be taken daily, at the same time each day, and on an empty stomach.
A doctor, typically an endocrinologist, will monitor your thyroid levels at regular intervals via blood labs. Based on your bloodwork and report of symptoms experienced your doctor may adjust your thyroid medication. Some individuals respond well to synthetic thyroid hormones while others require adjustment of the medication type, brand, and dosage before they return to normal thyroid levels.
Unfortunately, while treating your underperforming thyroid may ease symptoms of constipation, fatigue, cold intolerance and others associated with hypothyroidism, it may or may not improve your fertility. If your thyroid returns to normal levels and you are still having difficulty conceiving, it may be time to consult a fertility specialist.
If you are dealing with infertility and experiencing symptoms of hypothyroidism you should have a conversation with your doctor. It can be beneficial to check your thyroid levels to rule out any possibility of an underperforming thyroid before you consider fertility treatments.
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