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Your thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland located in your neck which produces the hormones responsible for controlling your metabolism. If your thyroid gland doesn't produce enough thyroid hormone, you have a disorder known as hypothyroidism. Both males and females are affected by hypothyroidism, but it is more commonly found in women.

Two fairly common problems caused by hypothyroidism are anovulation (lack of ovulation) and short luteal phases (the time between ovulation and the beginning of menstruation), both of which make it extremely difficult for women with the disorder to conceive. Hypothyroidism can also throw the endocrine system off balance, causing elevated levels of prolactin (the hormone that induces and maintains the production of breast milk), which can also have a negative effect on fertility. Thyroid secretion is not only essential for egg fertilization and development, but also for sperm production. There is strong evidence that hypothyroidism can affect male fertility by causing a low sperm count or reduced sperm motility.

Although hypothyroidism is one of the most common causes of infertility, it is often overlooked. A wide range of symptoms can include accumulation of fluid under the eye, sensitivity to cold, aching muscles, decreased sweating, decreased appetite, weight loss or gain, fatigue, mood swings, irregular heartbeat, constipation, anemia, anxiety, decreased sex drive, dry skin, insomnia and tingling in the hands and feet. Your doctor may also suspect hypothyroidism if your basal body temperature is consistently lower than 36.6 degrees Celsius.

Generally, your doctor will be able to determine whether you have hypothyroidism with standard thyroid function blood tests. In a person with an under-active thyroid gland, the blood level of T4 (the main thyroid hormone) tends to be low, while the level of thyroid stimulating hormone (the main pituitary hormone) is high. In other words, the thyroid gland is not producing enough hormone, so the pituitary gland responds by making more of its own hormones in an attempt to stimulate the thyroid.

Hypothyroidism is treated with thyroid-replacement hormones (synthetic or natural, pill or liquid), which act to bring the T4 hormone in your body back to a normal range. Your doctor will likely prescribe thyroid hormone medication called levothyroxine, a pure synthetic form of T4, which is an exact replacement for naturally produced T4. Symptoms generally subside within one to two weeks of taking the medication, but it may take up to two months for you to feel completely normal.

After about one month of treatment, your doctor will measure the hormone levels in your blood to make sure you are taking the appropriate dose of thyroid hormone. If you become pregnant while taking T4, it is probable that your medication had everything to do with it. It is safe to continue taking your medication during your pregnancy, but your doctor may adjust your dose. A higher dose is often necessary to meet the increased demands of your changing metabolism. Because T4 crosses into breast milk in only minute quantities and has no adverse effect on the baby, it is safe to take while you are breastfeeding.

Typically, hypothyroidism is easy to manage in those who have it. But if you suffer from a thyroid condition and you're trying to have a baby, it is imperative that you seek treatment for your disorder as soon as possible. If you happen to get pregnant and do not receive proper treatment, you face an increased, serious risk of having a miscarriage.



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