Thyroid Problems Affect Fertility

The Cause That Is Often Overlooked

One frequent cause of infertility in women is undiagnosed and untreated thyroid disease. A thyroid condition, whether it is hypothyroid or hyperthyroid, can sometimes create complications for getting and staying pregnant. There is good news though. If the condition is properly treated and monitored, there's no reason why a woman can't get pregnant, and have a healthy pregnancy and a safe delivery.

Thyroid disease can affect fertility. Dr. Sheldon Rubenfeld, thyroidologist and Founding Chairman of the Thyroid Society for Education and Research, says that the fairly common problems caused by thyroid dysfunction are anovulation, which is the absence of ovulation (release of the egg from the ovary) and menstrual irregularities. There can be no conception without an egg to be fertilized.

What Happens When There Is A Problem With Thyroid Function

When there is a problem with the function of the thyroid gland, then the body's natural reproductive hormones' balance is upset and ovulation is affected. Even though a woman has a regular menstrual period, she may not be ovulating. The best way to tell if ovulation is happening is to test the level of luteinizing hormone (LH), which is released by the pituitary gland. It is LH which causes the release of the egg by stimulating the ovaries. This test is easily accomplished with an ovulation predictor kit. The kit will identify the LH surge which triggers ovulation. Too much or too little thyroid hormone may affect the LH levels and the release of the egg.

Another possible effect of thyroid disease or dysfunction is a shortened luteal phase. The luteal phase in the menstrual cycle is the period of time between ovulation and the onset of menstruation. A normal luteal phase is between 13 to 15 days and this period is long enough to nurture a fertilized egg until it is settled in the uterus. A shortened luteal phase can cause failure in sustaining the fertilized egg long enough to implant. While this appears to be infertility, it is really a very early loss of pregnancy which happens at the same time as menstruation would begin.

The Effects Of Thyroid Disease Can Be Far Reaching

Dr. Rubenfeld said that,"the mechanisms by which thyroid problems interfere with fertility are often unknown, but there is no question that other aspects of thyroid function affect fertility." He gives the example that hypothyroidism can cause an increase in prolactin, the hormone which is produced by the pituitary gland that causes breast milk to be produced in post-partum women. Excessive prolactin can prevent ovulation or affect monthly cycles, causing irregularities. The increase in prolactin may be generated by a higher level of thyrotropin releasing hormone (TRH) which stimulates the pituitary gland to send out both prolactin and thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH).

The PCOS Connection

There is also a connection between hypothyroidism and PCOS. Polycystic ovarian syndrome is characterized by cysts on the ovaries which hamper ovulation and create fertility problems.

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