Chronic constipation is generally a symptom of an underlying illness that requires medical attention. Indeed, it may be the first, most obvious, or only symptom of a condition that it’s important to catch. Hypothyroidism is one problem that has constipation as a symptom. As many as one in 50 people, mostly women, have the condition, in which the thyroid gland is underactive, potentially leading to joint pain, infertility, obesity, and heart disease.
Hypothyroidism is relatively common among pregnant women, and can strike up to six months after the pregnancy. In fact, it’s so common, and so potentially harmful to the developing fetus, that some doctors are recommending making thyroid function screening—a blood test to measure levels of a hormone called thyroxene—a routine component of obstetric care.
"Decreased thyroid function can result in adverse pregnancy outcomes; however, the recommendations for thyroid function testing in pregnancy are controversial, especially for healthy women with no risk factors for thyroid disease, largely due to inadequate data to guide decision making," says Ronald J. Koenig, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan, in a statement. In addition to standard, or overt, hypothyroidism, around three percent of pregnant women have what is known as subclinical hypothyroidism, in which the activity of the thyroid is reduced, but not sufficiently to meet the clinical requirements for hypothyroid disorder
Reduced thyroid activity is also common in women over 60. Hypothyroidism is often caused by an autoimmune disease, in which the immune system attacks the body’s own healthy tissue. Autoimmune diseases are generally hereditary and can come in clusters, meaning anyone who has any autoimmune condition or who has a family history of autoimmune disease is at risk for an underactive thyroid. Treatment for underactive thyroid is usually synthetic hormones. However, there is some concern that these hormones are being overprescribed.