Understanding the thyroid
The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located at the front of the neck. This gland has an important role, mainly secreting the hormones thyroxine or T4 and triiodothyronine or T3. The thyroid takes direction from the pituitary gland in the brain, which is controlled by the hypothalamus. The hormones produced are crucial for metabolism, breathing, cholesterol levels, menstruation, and much more. Too much or too little T3 and T4 can have serious long-term effects.
Types of thyroid conditions
The most talked-about conditions concerning the thyroid are hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism. Hyperthyroidism refers to an overproduction of thyroid hormones. Common signs include rapid weight loss, arrhythmia, changes in appetite, irregular periods, and so on. Hypothyroidism is much more common, particularly in women, which is an underproduction of thyroid hormones. Symptoms include fatigue, weight gain, dry skin, irregular periods, and many others. There is also a severe impact on fertility.
For women, hypothyroidism impacts the production of other hormones like estrogen and progesterone. The result can be a delay in ovulation. In some cases, an egg is not released at all. Women who do get pregnant with the condition are unable to carry the fetus to term. The endometrium is unprepared for the embryo due to irregular hormones. While less rare, hyperthyroidism, often linked to Graves' disease, can also cause miscarriages and infertility.
Men need to be aware too
Men aren't exempt from the dangers of irregular thyroid function. Hyperthyroidism has a significant impact on fertility, particularly sperm count. An underactive thyroid can impact the production of sperm, sperm quality and can lead to erectile dysfunction. In a study of 90 men, those with hypothyroidism were twice as likely to have poor reproductive function.
What you can do about it
If a couple has been trying to get pregnant for a year without success, the best step is to see a doctor. A reproductive specialist can perform a full assessment on both parties, including a blood test. Blood tests reveal the current T3 and T4 levels. From there, the couple can take the right medication and try lifestyle changes. In most cases, these are enough to improve the chances of pregnancy. If these fail, further reproductive treatments and techniques may be available to help with family planning.