I developed thyroid problems when I was 18, but I wasn’t properly diagnosed until I was 28 years old. In that decade of not knowing what was making me feel so miserable, I would have given anything to get some answers and to feel better.
So it alarms me when I hear women say that they just don’t want to deal with their thyroid problems. Women are more prone to developing thyroid disorders than men—in fact, seven out of eight thyroid diagnoses will be in women. They can set in at any time, but most commonly, it happens when a woman is in her thirties, forties, or fifties. During that time, women always have a lot of other stuff going on: having babies, raising kids, working in demanding careers, going through menopause. As a result, it can be easy to push off dealing with health issues for a later time.
Thyroid problems are annoying to manage, too. Not only do you have to find a doctor who will take them seriously, you have to get regular blood draws to monitor your levels. You may need to make frequent medication adjustments for a while until your body finds a place to settle. You may have other issues on top of thyroid problems to address, especially if you have Hashimoto’s, the autoimmune form of hypothyroidism.
In other words, dealing with health challenges can feel like a full-time job, and most women simply don’t have time to put it front and center.
Facing thyroid problems head on
But let me tell you, a thyroid problem almost never goes away on its own. The one exception would be postpartum hypothyroidism that does not turn into Hashimoto’s—but that’s a rare occurrence. Most often, once your thyroid starts to suffer, you will have to take some sort of action step to get it back on track.
As a nutritionist and thyroid expert, there are five main reasons why I never want to see women ignore their thyroid problems—or even put them off for a later time. The longer you wait, the worse things will get.
01. Ignoring thyroid problems will hurt your bone health.
If you have hyperthyroid issues and your levels aren’t properly managed, it will lead to an increased risk of fracture over time. The same is true for people with hypothyroid problems who are overtreated with thyroid hormones. If your T3 or T4 levels (the hormones your thyroid makes) are too high, and your TSH (the hormone from the brain that tells the thyroid to make more hormones) is too suppressed, it can result in bone loss. This is why it’s important to keep up with regular blood tests to ensure that your levels are in a healthy range. Women already have a higher risk for osteoporosis and bone fracture than men, and they also have a higher risk for thyroid issues. If neglected, the two combined health concerns can result in some serious bone problems after menopause.
02. Ignoring thyroid problems will hurt your heart health.
Whether your thyroid is over- or under-functioning, a long-term problem that is unaddressed can cause heart problems. With chronic hypothyroidism, you could be at an increased risk for fluid around the heart and heart failure. With chronic hyperthyroidism, atrial fibrillation, that is, an irregular heartbeat, could occur. Either way, ignoring a thyroid problem for months or years can result in serious damage to your heart and worse overall health problems.
03. Ignoring thyroid problems will impact your mental health.
A thyroid that is not properly producing hormones can leave the body weakened in many ways. Any thyroid disorder can also impact mental health and mood. What is more, poor thyroid medicine dose management can result in anxiety and depression, or both. Overall, ignoring thyroid problems or not having them properly managed by a healthcare provider can negatively impact your health in ways far beyond your typical thyroid symptoms of fatigue or weight change.
04. Ignoring thyroid problems will kill your energy levels.
A thyroid that is off balanced will cause fatigue. If you’re hypothyroid, you’ll likely feel so tired that you need to sleep all the time, only to wake feeling unrested. If you’re hyperthyroid, you might feel chronically overstimulated and suffer from insomnia, resulting in poor rest. You won’t get good quality sleep or feel energetic with the right balance if your thyroid is not working as it should. Between mood changes, insomnia, and a sluggish metabolism, you could end up with little or no motivation for anything. Thyroid disorders can sabotage your quality of life, so it’s important to get them addressed as quickly as possible.
05. Thyroid problems will not go away on their own.
While you may not have a permanent thyroid condition like Hashimoto’s, even if you are temporarily hypothyroid, you will have to take some action steps to reverse it. It may not be medication, but it could be lifestyle changes or addressing the other hormone conditions or disorders that affected your thyroid in the first place. The bottom line is that once the thyroid is struggling, it’s either a sign of primary thyroid disorder or that something else in the body has run amuck. Attempting to wait it out will only lead to worsened imbalances.
Thyroid problems are simple to treat—on the surface. But if you’ve been diagnosed with a thyroid condition or disorder, then you know that it’s anything but simple. Still, it’s important not to avoid it or pretend it’ll get better. Find a doctor who will hear your concerns and work with you to find a solution. Sometimes it takes a second or third opinion to find that provider who will work with you until you feel better, but the extra effort is worth it. If a doctor tells you that all is “normal,” but you still feel terrible, seek a provider who will dig a little deeper. I wish I had known to do that so I wouldn’t have had unaddressed thyroid disease for a decade. But once I did, I finally received some answers—and some relief.