January is thyroid awareness month. If you can't get pregnant, should you care?

Your thyroid, that little gland at the base of your neck, is the master glad of your metabolism, and plays a significant role in many areas of a woman's reproductive life, from conception through to delivery. 59 million Americans, mostly women, currently have thyroid abnormalities in the U.S. A significant percentage of these women are currently trying to conceive a baby. Could you be one of them?

Thyroid problems fall along two specific lines, 1) hyperthyroidism, where the thyroid gland is overactive and producing an overabundance of thyroid hormone and 2) hypothyroidism, where the thyroid gland is underactive and not producing enough.

Ironically, both extremes can present problems for women who are trying to get and stay pregnant. Women with hypothyroidism may produce too much prolactin, which is the hormone that helps to create and maintain breast milk. Too much prolactin can adversely affect fertility by inhibiting ovulation and therefore, conception.

Women with undiagnosed hyperthyroidism may be at greater risk of miscarriage or premature birth, making it hard or impossible to maintain a healthy pregnancy.

It should be a no brainer that your thyroid is tested when you are first experiencing difficulties conceiving but unfortunately that is not often the case. The reason is simple. The symptoms of both underactive and overactive thyroid are often vague and attributable to a wide variety of other disorders. Symptoms include sleeplessness, weight loss or gain, constipation, memory loss, or hair loss.

A good rule of thumb is simply this. If you are having trouble getting or staying pregnant, ask for a full battery of thyroid tests. These tests include the TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) Test, the T4 test, the Free T3 test, and the Autoimmune Antibodies Test. In addition, make sure that your physician is a reproductive endocrinologist or other specialist who can accurately analyze the results of these blood tests and integrate them into your care, by evaluating your symptoms, taking your medical history and performing a clinical exam. Proper diagnosis, and follow up treatment is key, particularly if you are placed in medication as your dosage will need to be carefully evaluated over time.

That little butterfly shaped gland called the thyroid affects virtually every system in your body. If you are trying to get pregnant, particularly if you are over the age of 35, make sure that a full battery of thyroid tests are part of your initial infertility workup.

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Thyroid butterfly

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Reprinted with permission from www.examiner.com

Photo: Allyson Averell

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