How your thyroid affects your health

The thyroid gland influences almost all of the metabolic processes such as to grow and create energy in your body. The two key hormones that the thyroid is responsible for producing are triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). Thyroid disorders can range from a small, harmless goiter (enlarged gland) that needs no treatment to life-threatening cancer.

Thyroid conditions can be grouped as either:

  • hyperthyroidism, which means the thyroid gland is producing too much thyroid hormones; or
  • hypothyroidism, which means the thyroid is underactive and not producing enough thyroid hormones.

Who is at risk?

Thyroid conditions or abnormalities are five times more common in women than in men.

Women with a family history of thyroid disease, postpartum (post birth) thyroiditis, previous treatment for Graves’ disease, or autoimmune disorders such as type 1 diabetes, are at higher risk of thyroid abnormalities. Age also increases the risk of thyroid conditions; therefore, women with a family history and signs and symptoms should be monitored regularly for abnormal thyroid levels.

Symptoms of thyroid conditions vary between individuals, which is why it is often difficult to diagnose.

 Symptoms of hyperthyroidism 

 Symptoms of hypothyroidism 

 Accelerated heart rate or palpitations 


 Muscle weakness and trembling 

 Muscle weakness 

 Weight loss 

 Weight gain or increased difficulty losing weight 

 Sensitivity to heat 

 An intolerance to cold 


 Dry, rough pale skin 

 Sleeping difficulties 

 Hair loss 


 Coarse, dry hair 


 Muscle cramps and frequent muscle aches 

 Nervousness, agitation and anxiety 

 Low mood or depression 

 Changes in menstruation 

 Changes in menstruation 


Thyroid disorders in younger women  

While thyroid disorders are more common in women at midlife, younger women do experience thyroid abnormalities which can impact their physical and emotional wellbeing. In addition to the physical symptoms of thyroid disorders, there may also be an emotional impact. Weight gain may lead to body image concerns and fatigue may affect some women’s motivation to exercise. This negative cycle affects the mental health of many sufferers.

Thyroid problems can also affect fertility and pregnancy. The health problems associated with thyroid abnormalities can cause decreased fertility, increased risk of miscarriage and an increased risk of premature delivery.

Thyroid disorders in women at midlife

Thyroid disease, which is one of the most common hormone disorders in women, can be difficult to recognize in the middle years. A key reason for this is that symptoms of thyroid disorders are similar to symptoms of menopause, such as changes in menstrual cycles, fatigue, sleep disturbance, mood, skin and hair changes, and heat or cold intolerance.

A large American study which looked at women transitioning through menopause found that approximately 10 per cent of women aged between 42 and 52 had abnormal thyroid function.

Thyroid disorders in older women

Thyroid disorders or abnormalities are also common in older women. Hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid gland) can have a significant impact on bone health. High concentration of thyroid hormones can lead to more bone breakdown than bone formation, which affects bone density and causes osteoporosis.

What should you do?

If you have concerns, contact your doctor to discuss your symptoms.
Find out more information about thyroid conditions, management and treatment.

Published with the permission of Jean Hailes for Women’s Health or call toll free 1800 JEAN HAILES (532 642).


Related articles:
Understand your thyroid
Health checks: when to have them

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