How does thyroid disease affect my sexuality?

Thyroid dysfunction is a common problem for many women, and it should be known that hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) or hyperthyroidism[1] (overactive thyroid) can influence the sexual response cycle in women. Hypothyroidism is a medical condition characterized by abnormally low thyroid hormone production. Some of the common symptoms include fatigue, depression, weight gain, cold intolerance, sleepiness, coarse and dry hair, constipation, muscle cramps, decreased concentration, vague aches and pains, swelling in the legs, decreased concentration, and changes in cholesterol profile.

Hyperthyroidism is characterized by excessive thyroid hormone production and can have the following symptoms: excessive sweating, heat intolerance, increased bowel movements, tremors/shaking, nervousness, and agitation with changes in heart rate. Some complain of weight loss and fatigue and decreased concentration. Often women can also tell of changes in menstrual flow with decreased monthly bleeding and sometimes irregular intervals between periods.

After reviewing the symptoms of each condition, it is clear that some of the symptoms will influence your sexual interest level. Many women with decreased thyroid function suffer from lowered libido. The blood test to assess whether or not your thyroid is functioning properly is one that measures a thyroid-stimulating hormone. Most sexual medicine specialists feel that thyroid dysfunction is an easy test that can account for many organic causes of sexual complaints. In the author's practice in Newport Beach, it has been his experience that close to 10-15% of patients who present with decreased libido have underlying thyroid disorders. Thyroid disease can be easily treated, so it is clear that this should be ruled out as a medical source of lowered libido.

Do neuromuscular diseases like multiple sclerosis affect sexuality?

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a progressive disease of the central nervous system where gradual destruction of the myelin sheath, or coverings of the nerves, occurs. The myelin sheath surrounds and protects neurons, or brain nerve cells, and with their destruction there is a decreased ability of the nerves to carry electrical signals throughout the body, including to the genitals. Women with multiple sclerosis may need more time to get sexually aroused and may often complain of decreased arousal. Some women with this disorder may also have a variety of different patterns of orgasm. These issues are combined with ever present fatigue from increased muscle spasms. Mobility may be difficult and paralysis may inhibit movements.

Loss of bladder control may also preclude feeling at ease because of worry about incontinence or sudden loss of urine. Women may experience changes in sensation in the extremities including the hands, feet, and face, and changed sensation in the breasts and clitoris may make sexual intimacy difficult and a challenge. Often changes in bowel and bladder habits combined with depression may also affect intimate connections.

Women with neuromuscular diseases typically complain of decreased vaginal lubrication and changes in vaginal muscle tone. Clitoral engorgement may also be decreased. Other issues that are related to the nervous system such as bowel problems, spasticity, muscle weakness, body or hand tremor, and changes in attention and concentration can also affect the sexual response cycle. Those with MS may also experience changes in self-esteem and may have mood swings that affect their intimate relationships. Vaginal dryness, pain, muscle spasms, and possible embarrassment over bowel and bladder incontinence can all lead to lowered libido and other sexual complaints with MS.

Many medical interventions can help mitigate the problems for women with MS so that they may enjoy a fulfilling, pleasurable sexual intimate life. Consult with a sexual medicine specialist who is well versed with chronic medical disease to help you and your partner recapture a romantic sensual life.

  • [1] Increased thyroid hormone production that can cause symptoms such as anxiety, weight loss, and at times can mimic panic attacks.
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