Check thyroid health before planning a family

  • Woman in yellow with fingers on throat
By
Australian Thyroid Foundation
Beverley Garside OAM,
Chief Executive Officer
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Australian statistics show that well over 1 million Australians are living with an undiagnosed thyroid disorder. The Australian Thyroid Foundation medical advisers believe it could easily be more like 2.5 million! Thyroid disorders can affect anyone, of any age and demographic.

Newborns can be diagnosed shortly after birth with congenital hypothyroidism, which means the baby has either very low thyroid function or has been born without a thyroid gland. Ongoing thyroid replacement hormone (levothyroxine) is prescribed to treat this disorder.

Children (male and female), women during childbearing years, women during change-of-life years, men of all ages, the elderly and anyone with a family history of thyroid disorders can all be affected. Family history is very important to be aware of, as thyroid disorders are commonly passed from one generation to another by thyroid autoimmune diseases (Hashimoto’s or Graves’ diseases) that can greatly contribute to developing a thyroid disorder.

Hypothyroid function (an underactive thyroid that can be caused due to Hashimoto’s disease) and symptoms – such as tiredness, lethargy, feeling colder than normal, weight gain, constipation, memory loss, hair loss and dry skin – are treated with thyroid replacement hormone (levothyroxine).

Hyperthyroid function (an overactive thyroid that can be caused due to Graves’ disease) and symptoms – such as anxiety, weight loss, sleeplessness, diarrhea and feeling overheated – can be treated with an anti-thyroid medication or sometimes a permanent treatment, such as surgery to remove the thyroid gland.

Physical changes to the thyroid gland should be examined to ensure enlargement, the development of nodules or cysts, or any other irregularities of the thyroid gland are diagnosed by a thyroid ultrasound and then treated as necessary.

Recent research from The Lancet medical journal (March 2022) emphasises the consequences and risks of an inadequate amount of thyroid hormone at conception, during pregnancy or while breastfeeding.

Without an adequate amount of thyroid hormone, mothers can be exposed to hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, including gestational hypertension and pre-eclampsia. These conditions affect around 10 per cent of pregnant women and are the leading causes of maternal and neonatal mortality worldwide. Mothers who suffer from hypertensive disorders during pregnancy are at increased risk of long-term cardiovascular consequences and hypertensive disorders in subsequent pregnancies. Evidence also indicates a risk of reduced cognitive ability to their offspring.

Knowing if you are genetically predisposed to Hashimoto’s or Graves’ diseases is important, to ensure all appropriate tests are ordered. Autoimmune disorders may predispose mothers to a thyroid problem during pregnancy. So, before you plan a family, it is important to visit your doctor and ask to have blood tests to determine your thyroid health.

Pregnant women also need to ensure they take a daily pregnancy supplement, including at least 150 micrograms of iodine, which supports foetal development.

Australian Thyroid FoundationTo determine or eliminate a thyroid disorder, please ask your doctor to order blood tests for thyroid function and thyroid antibody (to determine or eliminate an autoimmune disease). A thyroid ultrasound will determine the physical health of your thyroid gland.

So be aware and do not overlook any symptoms or physical changes that could be due to a thyroid disorder.

For more information and support, please visit the Australian Thyroid Foundation: www.thyroidfoundation.org.au or contact: [email protected]

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