How Thyroid Disease Impacts Infertility in Both Men and Womenby Carissa Andrews - January 10th, 2017
January is Thyroid Disease Awareness month. Thyroid disease affects approximately 200 million people around the world, and about 20 million of them right here in America. The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland that influences the functionality of much of our body. As part of our endocrine system, it’s responsible for aspects of our metabolism, heart, brain, liver, kidneys, and even skin.
Moreover, new studies are showing links between hormonal imbalances in the thyroid with both male and female infertility. For men, the thyroid has an important role in sperm production. For women, the thyroid controls the hormones that deal with menstruation, and ovulation. When the functionality of the thyroid gland is compromised in any way, the results are often difficulty conceiving.
5 Common Types of Thyroid Problems
1. Hypothyroidismunderactive thyroid gland. Symptoms include: weak or slow heartbeat, muscular weakness, constant fatigue, weight gain, depression, slow reflexes, sensitivity to cold, poor memory, and even constipation. Hashimoto’s Disease is the most common cause of hypothyroidism in the United States. Hypothyroidism is often caused due to Thyroiditis, or inflammation of the thyroid gland.
2. Hyperthyroidismoveractive thyroid gland. Symptoms include: rapid weight loss, high blood pressure, anxiety, and insomnia. Grave’s Disease is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism, and is actually an autoimmune disorder that occurs when the body’s own immune system mistakenly attacks the thyroid gland. This, in turn, causes the gland to overproduce the hormones responsible for regulating our metabolism.
3. Goitersa thyroid condition that causes an enlarged, non-cancerous thyroid gland. Symptoms include a bulge or protrusion from the neck, a hoarse voice, and difficulty swallowing or breathing.
4. Thyroid Nodulessmall growths that form on or inside the thyroid gland. These can sometimes begin due to an iodine deficiency or Hashimoto’s Disease. Most nodules are benign, but some have been found to be cancerous. They’re common in men and women and the risk increases equally with age. Symptoms include a high pulse rate, nervousness, increased appetite, tremors, weight loss, and clammy skin. If the nodules are due to Hashimoto’s Disease, however, symptoms will be the opposite: fatigue, weight gain, hair loss, dry skin, and cold intolerance.
5. Thyroid CancerDue to increased detection, this is the fastest growing number of new cancer cases in both men and women. It’s also the fifth most common cancer for women.
Link to Infertility?
The thyroid gland handles the metabolism of every cell in your body. When the hormone levels are thrown off, even a little bit, the results can impact your chances to conceive. Research has shown that a whopping 70% of women with PMS have low thyroid levels (hypothyroidism). The PMS symptoms arise because the ovaries are less able to produce the correct levels of progesterone. Low thyroid levels are also linked to polycystic ovarian syndrome, another factor in infertility for women.
In 2014, Heather K of Minnesota. was diagnosed with hypothyroidism. At the time, she and her husband weren't trying to have more children, but her monthly cycle began acting irregularly.
“I would have a cycle every 6-10 weeks and I didn't know what was going on. I had many of the other symptoms as well. When I was checked, my levels were listed as "> than 100" normal range is between .5 and 5. The doctor said, ‘It’s amazing you were able to have children at all.’ “
In addition to reduced sperm production, males with thyroid issues have also been known to suffer from erectile dysfunction. According to a Urology Times study, they experience a drop in libido as well. The reason for both of these issues has to do with how the thyroid gland affects testosterone levels.
What to Do?
If you’re concerned about your thyroid, a good place to start is with a self-exam of your neck and thyroid.
Neck and Thyroid Self-Exam
• Use a mirror to focus on the lower half of your neck, just below the Adam’s apple and right above the collar bone. This is where your thyroid gland is located.
• While viewing yourself in the mirror, tip your head back.
• Take a drink of water, then swallow.
• As you swallow the water, watch for any bulges or protrusions that may occur in the lower half of your neck. Men, remember not to confuse your Adam’s apple with your thyroid gland.
If you see any bulges in your neck, make an appointment to see your physician. They’ll run a simple blood test called a TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) test to make sure your thyroid gland is functioning optimally. If anything is out of the ordinary, you’ll be given the next steps to take by your doctor.
The goal for all thyroid problems is to find a place of normalcy again for the thyroid. Depending on the type of thyroid issue you may be dealing with, your doctor may prescribe medications to treat you. Here are a few of the more common medications and what they’re used for:
• Levothyroxine (Synthroid) – Hormone replacement and treatment for low thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism) and to prevent goiters (enlarged thyroid gland).
• Radioactive iodine – The most popular treatment used for hyperthyroidism, as it’s far more difficult to normalize the hormone production. This therapy can effectively throw the thyroid into hypothyroidism when the treatment is complete, however.
If you and your partner have been having a hard time conceiving, it may be time for each of you to have your thyroid levels checked. The good news is, most of the time, if an issue is found and diagnosed—the treatment will increase your fertility fairly quickly. When a thyroid condition is left untreated, not only will it continue to wreak havoc on your body’s metabolism, but it can eventually lead to cancer. It’s best to have an early diagnosis, so you can take the necessary steps toward a healthy, fertile future.
Carissa Andrews is a freelance writer, graphic designer, and author. You can learn more about her at her website.