Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Relationship Between Thyroid Disease and Infertility

The calendar can become the enemy to a woman trying to conceive, because knowing the best times to get pregnant sometimes just isn't enough. If you are silently suffering from thyroid disease, no amount of charting or careful planning is going to get that baby into your arms. It's time to visit your health care provider and get to the root of the problem.

What is Infertility

Clinically, infertility is diagnosed when a couple has tried to conceive for longer than one year. This means 12 months of disappointment before a diagnosis can be made. While on one hand it makes sense to allow nature to take it course, on the other, it is precious time wasted, especially when an underlying health condition is to blame.

The Connection Between Thyroid Disease and Infertility

The thyroid, a tiny butterfly shaped gland sitting in the base of your throat can affect most aspects of your reproductive health. If not treated, a women with thyroid disease can suffer from a number of health issues, including:

  • Irregular, heavy or painful periods

  • Low sex drive and/or decreased desire

  • Infertility and/or difficulty conceiving

  • Recurrent miscarriages

  • Severe morning sickness in pregnancy

  • Premature birth/low birth weight

  • Post-partum depression

  • Difficulty breastfeeding/low milk supply

  • Post-pregnancy weight issue

  • Early onset or late onset puberty

  • PMS (premenstrual syndrome)

  • Perimenopause and menopausal symptoms

While not all of these symptoms are fertility based, I've listed them to show the scope of how thyroid can interfere with hormones in various phases of life. Are you surprised at how much influence this small gland plays in your health? Unfortunately, your doctor may be too.

Is Your Thyroid To Blame?

Diagnosing hypothyroidism seems to be a simple matter. A physician orders a TSH, a simple blood sample to be drawn. A laboratory spits out the results and a couple of numbers later it is determined if you do, or do not, suffer from a thyroid imbalance.

But this manner of testing is the beginning of the problem.

There is a tremendous amount of controversy as to the effectiveness of this test. First, TSH levels can change naturally, being one number one day, and a different number the next. But more importantly, while your TSH levels could be normal, the way in which your hormones work together could be off. These leads to a "normal" result from your health care provider... when things are absolutely not "normal".

When it comes to fertility, having an abnormal thyroid can make all the difference. Low levels of the thyroid hormone can change the ovulation cycle, making it difficult to know the best times to get pregnant and interfering with the maturation of eggs. Having a low thyroid function creates fatigue and decreased motivation. While you care very much about having a baby mentally, physically the desire is lagging. And if you are too tired to have intercourse, well, barring immaculate conception, your chances of getting pregnant aren't immaculate.

And it isn't only women who suffer. For men, an abnormal thyroid can lead to erectile problems, premature ejaculation and low testosterone, all issues directly connected to infertility.

What To Do?

Insist on additional testing. Since thyroid disease can cause a host of physical and emotional ailments, being properly diagnosed will not only help with conception, but with general well-being as well. While I don't advocate over testing, there are several that need to be considered:

  • TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) test, ALONG with the full panel of thyroid levels, including Free Thyroxine (Free T4).

  • Thyroid antibodies - insist on having this test conducted along with your TSH. Antibodies usually indicate when a thyroid is in the process of auto-immune failure. Perhaps it hasn't failed yet, but it may be faltering enough to affect fertility, or a woman's ability to maintain her pregnancy.

  • Parasite testing - known as the "great mimicker", parasites are another under-diagnosed health concern that can play a huge role in your health. As icky as it sounds, ask for a stool sample to rule out any intestinal parasites that could be causing numerous health and hormones issues raging inside of you. And as a side note: it is believed that the majority of Americans carry parasites so it is nothing to be ashamed of. If you have a pet that goes outside, you could have a parasite. If you have ever eaten lettuce not properly washed, you could have a parasite. Don't be afraid to ask for the test, thinking you will be judged on cleanliness - that isn't true!

Always remember that YOU hired your doctor. YOU pay him/her to take care of your health care needs. If your health care provider refuses to look beneath the surface, fire him and search for one more ready to listen and explore other possibilities.

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