Women and Thyroid Disease
Hyperthyroidism in Women
When the thyroid gland becomes overactive and produces too much thyroid hormone, a person is said to be hyperthyroid. The most common cause of hyperthyroidism in women is the autoimmune condition known as Graves’ disease, where antibodies target the gland and cause it to speed up hormone production.
Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disorder that leads to overactivity of the thyroid gland—hyperthyroidism. Graves’ disease is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism. It is caused by an abnormal immune system response that causes the thyroid gland to produce too much thyroid hormone. Graves’ disease is most common in women over age 20.
Graves’ Disease Risk Factors1 in Women
Although anyone can develop Graves’ disease, a number of factors can increase the risk of disease. These risk factors include the following:
- Family history
- Gender—women are much more likely to develop Graves’ disease than are men,
at a ratio of 7:1.
- Age—Graves’ disease usually develops in people younger than 40.
- Other autoimmune disorders
- Emotional or physical stress
- Pregnancy or recent childbirth
Graves’ Disease Symptoms in Women
Common signs and symptoms of Graves’ disease in women include:
- Difficulty sleeping
- A rapid or irregular heartbeat
- A fine tremor of the hands or fingers
- An increase in perspiration or warm, moist skin
- Sensitivity to heat
- Weight loss, despite normal eating habits
- Enlargement of the thyroid gland (goiter)
- Change in menstrual cycles
- Bulging eyes (Graves’ ophthalmopathy)
- Thick, red skin, usually on the shins or tops of the feet (Graves’ dermopathy)
Hypothyroidism in Women
When the thyroid gland is underactive due to improper formation at birth, surgical removed (all or in part), or becomes incapable of producing enough thyroid hormone, a person is said to be hypothyroid. One of the most common causes of hypothyroidism in women is the autoimmune disease called Hashimoto's disease, in which antibodies gradually target the thyroid and destroy its ability to produce thyroid hormone.
Globally the prevalence of Hashimoto’s disease is 1%, but subclinical hypothyroidism affects 4% of the population. Females make up the vast majority of the patients at a ratio of 8:1, female to male.2
Hypothyroidism Risk Factors in Women3
Risk factors include:
- Family history: Having a relative with autoimmune thyroid disease
- Age: Hypothyroidism can start at any age, but the risk keeps growing as people get older.
- Gender: Hypothyroidism is more common in women than men. It is much more common in young women than young men, but as men get older, they start to catch up.
- Race: Hypothyroidism is common in Caucasians and Asians. African-Americans are at lower risk.
- Presence of other autoimmune disorders
- Down syndrome or Turner’s syndrome
- The rate of hypothyroidism goes up:
- During pregnancy
- After delivery
- Around menopause
Hypothyroidism Symptoms in Women3,4
Hypothyroidism symptoms in women tend to develop slowly, often over several years. They may include the following:
- Dry, itchy skin
- Dry, coarse hair
- Hair loss
- Mild weight gain, and difficulty losing weight
- Slower thinking, memory loss
- More frequent and severe muscle cramps and joint aches
- Puffiness around the face
- Heavier and/or more frequent menstrual periods
- Goiter (swelling in the front of the neck, caused by enlargement of the thyroid)
- Slowing of heart rate
- Slightly higher blood pressure
- Higher cholesterol levels
1Website [Internet]. Available from: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/Graves’-disease/basics/definition/con-20025811
2Environmental Health Criteria 236: Principles and methods for assessing autoimmunity associated with exposure to chemicals. World Health Organization. 2006.
3Website [Internet]. Available from: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hypothyroidism/basics/causes/con-20021179
4Website [Internet]. Available from: http://my.clevelandclinic.org/disorders/hyperthyroidism/hic_hyperthyroidism.aspx