The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located in your neck, in front of your windpipe. This tiny gland plays a huge role in your health. The hormones produced by the thyroid gland influence your heart rate, your metabolism, and many other aspects of your health.
Sometimes the thyroid gland produces too much or too little of the thyroid hormone (thyroxine) that keeps the body functioning normally.
- Hyperthyroidism is the disorder that occurs if the thyroid gland is too active.
- Hypothyroidism is the disorder that occurs if the thyroid gland isn't active enough.
In the U.S., about 8 million women have either hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism that is unrecognized and untreated.
Some women have a thyroid disorder that began before pregnancy. Others develop thyroid problems for the first time during pregnancy or soon after delivery.
An untreated thyroid disorder during pregnancy is a danger to both mother and baby. For mothers, the risks include preeclampsia. This is a condition that can happen after the 20th week of pregnancy or right after pregnancy. It’s when a pregnant woman has high blood pressure and signs that some of her organs, like her kidneys and liver, may not be working properly. Some of these signs include having protein in the urine, changes in vision and severe headache.
For babies, the risks include preterm birth, decreased mental abilities, thyroid disorder and even death. But with proper treatment, most women with thyroid disorders can have a healthy baby.
How can thyroid conditions affect pregnancy?
If you have a thyroid condition, be sure to tell the health care provider who will take care of you during your pregnancy. It's best if you do this before you become pregnant.
If you are already pregnant, continue taking your medication and talk to your provider as soon as possible. Many medications used to treat thyroid disease in pregnancy are safe for a baby. But radioactive iodine, which is sometimes used to treat hyperthyroidism, should not be taken during pregnancy. In addition, your blood levels need to be monitored and the amount of medication you take may need to be adjusted as your pregnancy progresses.
Health care providers do not routinely perform thyroid screening for women who are planning to get pregnant or who are newly pregnant. If you think you might have a thyroid condition—or if you have a family history of thyroid disease—ask your provider if you should be tested.
How do you know if you have hyperthyroidism?
Signs and symptoms of hyperthyroidism include:
- Nervousness, anxiety attacks, or irritability
- Sudden weight loss
- Rapid heartbeat, irregular heartbeat, or pounding of the heart (palpitations)
- Shaking hands and fingers
- Inappropriate sweating
- Increased sensitivity to heat
- More frequent bowel movements
- Changes in menstrual patterns
- Muscle weakness
- Difficulty sleeping
Signs and symptoms of of hypothyroidism include:
- Unexplained weight gain
- Increased sensitivity to cold
- Dry skin
- Heavier than normal menstrual periods
- Muscle and joint aches
- Muscle weakness
Many of these symptoms are also related to other health conditions. So having some of them does not always mean you have thyroid disease. Still, if you have any of these symptoms, be sure to tell your health care provider.