Thyroid problems in the bedroom can lead to sexual dysfunction. Some studies suggest that as many as half the women in the U.S. have some form of chronic sexual dysfunction. And three out of every four women are likely to have a shorter-term sexual problem at one time or another. There is evidence that these numbers may be even higher in women who have a thyroid condition, especially an underactive thyroid — hypothyroidism.
Typically, in women, sexual dysfunction shows up in different ways:
* Avoidance – Some women actively avoid sexual encounters completely.
* Desire - A lowered libido — interest in sex — or less desire than in the past.
* Arousal - Interest in sex, but the body does not become or stay aroused sex
* Orgasm - Inability to have an orgasm
* Pain - Before, during or after sex.
An underactive thyroid is known to cause or contribute to various sexual dysfunction. But in particular, women with hypothyroidism most commonly experience low sex drive, and arousal problems.
While in some women, problems are resolved with thyroid treatment, other women receive what their doctors consider “sufficient” treatment, and yet still complain of libido and arousal problems. When that happens, doctors unfortunately are often quick to assume that the sexual problems are psychological in origin.
Six Steps to Follow
As a patient, however, before you accept any diagnosis that your sexual dysfunction is psychological, be sure that your practitioner has exhausted the medical options to assess your condition.
First, your doctor should make sure that your thyroid treatment is optimized. This means trying any one of the various thyroid drugs, at various dosages, to see if your symptoms can be resolved.
Second, your doctor will want to balance out other related hormones that affect sexual function, including estrogen, testosterone, progesterone, DHEA, and adrenal hormones. This may involve supplementation with over-the-counter products such as DHEA, progesterone cream, or nutritional support for the adrenal glands, or it may involve prescription bioidentical hormone treatments for estrogen, testosterone or progesterone.
Third, your doctor, naturopath, or herbalist may also recommend nutritional and herbal supplements that may help with sexual function. Since supplements can have various — and sometimes serious — side effects, don’t self-treat…talk to your practitioners regarding options, which can include:
* Arginine, an amino acid
* Ashwaganda, an Indian ayurvedic herb
* Asian Ginseng (Panax), Asian ginseng — also called panax
* Avena-Sativa/Oat Extract (Vigorex)
* Horny Goat Weed
Fourth, your doctor should rule out other conditions that might affect your sexual function, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, liver disease, kidney disease, pelvic injury, and neurological disorders. (Alcohol or drug use or abuse — especially cocaine and marijuana — should be discussed, as they can dramatically affect sexual function.)
Fifth, your doctor will want to review the medications and supplements you take to ensure that you aren’t taking anything affects sexual function. Antidepressants, for example, are frequently associated with problems with sexual function, along with birth control pills, certain anti-anxiety medications, blood pressure drugs, some cancer treatments, and many other medications.
Sixth, your doctor may want to refer you to a sexual dysfunction specialist, for special diagnostic testing that can measure blood flow, pH testing, and other ways to assess dysfunction.
Other Things You Can Do
In addition to a full medical evaluation for sexual dysfunction, there are two things that you can personally do that not only might help sexual dysfunction, but are good for overall health. The first is to lose weight. Excess weight often affects self-image, which can affect sex drive. At the same time, excess weight biochemically also affects sexual function. Even a 10 to 20 pound weight loss in an overweight woman reduces enough body fat to substantially reduce the levels of sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG), which frees up estrogen and testosterone, helping to balance the levels of sex hormones.
The second thing you can do is exercise. Exercise improves blood flow, releases brain-pleasing endorphins, and improves body image. Studies have shown that people who exercise have less sexual dysfunction, and higher degree of satisfaction.
The Psychological Component
When medical and lifestyle approaches don’t resolve the issue entirely, appropriate therapy often can. Traditional psychotherapy may help identify and resolve root causes of problems, improve self-esteem, or teach new skills in self-expression. Communications or couples counseling may help improve the relationship. Sex therapy may help resolve specific dysfunctions, and teach techniques that aid in sexual desire and satisfaction.
Resource: For referral to a qualified sex therapist, contact the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists, P.O. Box 1960, Ashland, Virginia 23005-1960, Ph: 804.752.0026, Fax: 804.752.0056, Web: .
Mary Shomon is an internationally-known thyroid patient advocate, and is author of a number of best-selling health books, including Living Well With Hypothyroidism and The Thyroid Diet. Since 1997, she has run the Internet’s most popular thyroid patient sites: About.com Thyroid Site and Thyroid-Info.com (June 2006)