The THYROID GLAND and PREGNANCY
What and Where is it and What does it do?
The thyroid gland is a major endocrine gland which is located at the front of your neck, on your throat. It is a butterfly shaped gland of approximately 2 inches in length and affects the function of almost all organs in your body. It is in close communication with the Pituitary gland in the brain. The communication method is via chemical hormones most commonly known as Thyroid or Thyroxine (T3 and T4). There is also Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) which tells the thyroid gland when it needs to produce more thyroxine.
Picture from The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) (cropped to fit)
The Thyroid is the gland responsible for the maintenance of the body’s temperature regulation (are you hot or cold?), metabolism, weight, cholesterol levels, menstrual cycles, skin condition (dry and scaly?), brain development, skeletal development and heart rate. It effects the cells of almost every organ in the body.
What happens during pregnancy?
Pregnancy is a time of intense change for the body of the mother as well as the fetus. During this time the mother’s body needs to accommodate the growing baby as well as the hormonal changes caused by the pregnancy. Two of the main pregnancy hormones, estrogen and human chorionic gonadotrophin (hCG) tell the thyroid gland to produce more thyroid hormone which circulates around the body. hCG has weak thyroid stimulating actions, behaving like TSH so it is unsurprising that during pregnancy some women develop goitres (see a little later).
What will I feel or see? (symptoms or signs)
During pregnancy, typically during the first trimester and towards the end of the pregnancy, you will be feeling tired. It is hard to say what a ‘normal’ level of tiredness is, so use your judgement. If you don’t think you should be as tired as you are seek, guidance from a health care professional. If they think it is necessary they will conduct a Thyroid Function Test (TFT) which is where they take blood from you and measure the Free T3, Free T4 and TSH levels and measure them against the healthy range. You could also notice a thickening or swelling at the front of your throat. This is called a Goitre.
This is an enlargement of the thyroid gland. It can vary greatly in size from almost invisible to really large and affecting throat function. It may be due to underactive, overactive or even appear where there is supposedly normal thyroid function.
What do I need to do if something appears to change?
If you notice a change in the area of your Thyroid gland during pregnancy it is advisable to speak to your obstetrician or GP about it and they can decide whether or not to do a Thyroid Function Test (TFT). Ideas are changing about the limits of the measurements in the TFT. It used to be that a measurement of 4.5 was thought to be the upper TSH limit but specialists in this area are now reporting their patients are at their healthiest with levels between 1mIU/L and 2 mIU/L.
Here is a link to a video where two Drs discuss the optimum TSH levels (in the first few minutes although it is quite a long video)
Here is a link to a great book by Dr Sandra Cabot and Margaret Jasinska ND Your Thyroid Problems Solved: Holistic Solutions to Improve Your Thyroid
Thyroid Part 2 coming soon. This blog will answer questions such as;
What role does Iodine play in the health of your thyroid gland?
What foods contain Iodine?
What can I do or avoid doing to reduce the risk?
Where can I get more information?