For women who struggle to conceive, the journey is often long, hard, and emotionally draining. But a recent study from Harvard Medical School may shed light on why some women can't get pregnant. The potential culprit? A slightly underactive thyroid.
The study, which was published in the Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, found that women who were struggling to conceive were twice as likely to have an increased level of TSH, a hormone that stimulates the thyroid gland, compared to women who weren't able to get pregnant due to their partner's low sperm count. The study indicates that "elevated TSH levels can be a sign that the thyroid gland is underactive."
This new information could be life-changing for couples experiencing infertility. According to the US Department of Health and Services, out of 100 couples, 12 to 13 of them will struggle to get pregnant. And the CDC also estimates that 6.1 million women in the US struggle to become pregnant and stay pregnant.
For the study, researchers looked at 187 women who were diagnosed with infertility between the ages of 18 and 39. They all had regular periods and normal fertility evaluations, but couldn't get pregnant between 2000 and 2012. Of the 187 subjects, 135 participants had unknown infertility problems and 52 of them had male partners with severe infertility. Researchers found that the women who had issues conceiving had much higher levels of TSH compared to the women whose male partners also had infertility issues.
"When couples who are ready to start a family are unable to conceive despite extensive planning, multiple doctor's visits, and expensive treatments, it can be emotionally devastating," explained the study's senior author, Pouneh K. Fazeli, a researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, to Science Daily. "Since our study shows that women with unexplained infertility have higher TSH levels compared to women experiencing infertility due to a known cause, more research is needed to determine whether treating these higher TSH levels with thyroid hormone can improve their chances of getting pregnant."