Last thanksgiving, I reconnected with an old friend of mine. He had married recently and had been trying to have a child for the past two years.
After exchanging pleasantries, he shared that his wife couldn’t be there because she had recently developed swelling on her feet and thought she needed to rest it off.
He then asked for my opinion, since I had a medical background, to which I replied, “Has she ever had a thyroid function test?”.
What is thyroid disease?
The thyroid is an organ located at the front aspect of your neck responsible for producing thyroid hormones.
The levels of thyroid hormones determine how active your body cells are.
Thyroid disease can result from two abnormalities of the thyroid hormone. Reduction in thyroid hormone production is referred to as hypothyroidism, while excessive production is known as hyperthyroidism.
If you have hypothyroidism, you’re likely to experience symptoms such as:
- Tiredness and feeling of low energy that usually serves as an early warning for thyroid disease
- Abnormally increased weight gain
- Young women may experience heavy flow during menstruation
- Your voice may become hoarse
- Muscular pains
- Young women may also experience more painful cramps
- You’re also likely to feel sleepier than usual if you have hypothyroidism
The body signs of hypothyroidism presentation include:
- Relaxed reflexes
- Disco-ordinated body movements. For example, you may not be able to stand in position when you close your eyes
- Swollen feet and distended stomach
On the other hand, if you have hyperthyroidism, you are likely to experience symptoms such as:
- Sudden loss of weight
- An excessive sensation of heat
- In hyperthyroidism, you are more likely to experience insomnia and lack of sleep due to agitation
How does thyroid disease affect menstruation?
Studies have shown that women are six times more likely to be affected by thyroid disease than men. Women are also more likely to get thyroid disease during hormonal fluxes such as ovulation and pregnancy.
If you’re a woman suffering from hypothyroidism, you are more likely to experience frequent menstruation and high-flow, known as menorrhagia.
Hypothyroidism can affect menstruation in two ways:
- Increased prolactin secretion
- Suppression of gonadotropin hormones (reproductive hormones)
The increase in prolactin inhibits other reproductive hormones such as follicle-stimulating hormone that plays a role in ovulation.
Subsequently, in hypothyroidism, excessive menstruation is associated with breakthrough bleeding caused by lack of ovulation.
If you’re a woman suffering from hyperthyroidism, you’re likely to develop absent period cycles, also known as amenorrhea. Hyperthyroidism may mimic menopause, but one can differentiate using non-reproductive signs of thyroid disease.
Thyroid disease affects menstruation because of the similarity in structure and production site to other reproductive hormones.
Amenorrhea or oligomenorrhea in hyperthyroidism is more likely to be caused by an increase in sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG).
The protein attaches to the hormones that would generally result in the proliferation of your uterus walls, such as estrogen. Therefore, the shed uterus wall (menstrual flow) is minimal.
The disruption of ovulation cycles in thyroid disease can lead to more severe infertility problems if left untreated.
Foods that can boost your thyroid activity
The raw material needed for the formation of thyroid hormone is iodide.
When you ingest it, iodide is absorbed and transported to the thyroid glands, where it reacts with thyroglobulin, which is made of carbohydrates and amino acids.
Therefore, the primary nutrient or food you want to ingest to boost your thyroid must contain iodide. Iodide is added to table salt as a public health measure.
Are there foods that can cause thyroid disease?
Ingested food does not usually cause thyroid disease. However, studies have shown that some foods may be bad for your thyroid hormone production. These foods are known as thyroid disruptors. For example…
- Cabbage contains thiocyanates that are antithyroid compounds.
- Soy products contain flavonoids that disrupt thyroid hormone formation.
- Caffeine has been shown to reduce thyroid hormone levels.
- Grapes contain reversterol that reduces thyroid hormone release.
- Polyunsaturated fatty acids and fish oil also slow down thyroid hormone formation.
- Cinnamon has demonstrated a slight association to desensitize the thyroid hormone receptors.
The simple five-step method to check your thyroid at home
Thyroid problems tend to occur silently over time; therefore, it is essential to know how to check for any thyroid disease signs.
The following steps can be taken at the comfort of your home.
The first step begins with a general observation. Have you had any significant weight loss or gain?
In the second step, use a mirror and check for…
- Drooping of eyelids or enlarged eyeballs.
- Observe for any changes in your hair, thinning, or increased hair.
- Observe your nails for any swelling.
- Then move to your neck and assess if there is an asymmetry between the right and left side or any noticeable swelling.
The third step is to assume an upright position while seated on your chair and have a glass of water ready beside you.
Extend your neck slightly by looking at the highest point of the wall where it meets the ceiling. Do not overextend your neck by facing the ceiling directly.
After that, the fourth step, identify the base of your neck and feel for a notch between two bony protrusions.
At the notch, feel for the ring-like cartilages just above it. The ring-like cartilages are your trachea. Palpate the cartilages as you move upwards along the midline until the hard cartilage stops.
The landmark should be at the mid-section of your neck; this is where your thyroid gland lies.
On either side of this point are the thyroid lobes that you can gently palpate for. The right lobe is often more significant than the left. Therefore, in hyperthyroidism, the right will be more prominent.
Finally, in the fifth step, observe how the thyroid moves in response to a swallowing motion. Place both your fingers at the midline where the thyroid was identified, then gently start taking a sip of water.
The normal thyroid will move upwards as you swallow. The upward motion occurs because of the attachment of the thyroid gland in the neck.
Additionally, you want to feel for any pulsation at the point of the thyroid. You can now end your neck examination of the thyroid.
It is vital to seek medical help if the upward motion is lacking, a sizeable mass is identified, or any pulsations are felt.
Understanding medical tests for thyroid disease
If you’ve been suspected of having thyroid disease, then a thyroid function test was most likely done by your doctor before medical treatment. The test would usually involve measuring whether your Thyroid-stimulating hormone and thyroid hormones were normal.
Thyroid hormone is produced in response to the secretion of a hormone known as Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH). TSH is produced in an area of your brain known as the pituitary gland.
The tests can tell your doctor the level of the problem. The cause of the thyroid disease may be in your brain or within the thyroid gland.
- Medical disorders of the brain will always present with reduced thyroid-stimulating hormone levels below the average level
- Thyroid gland problems will present with low thyroid hormone levels but increased thyroid-stimulating hormone levels
I hope this article helped allow you to check your thyroid at home. Please comment below if you have any questions.