Thyroid problems three years ago caused Czech supermodel Karolina Kurkova to develop symptoms of premature menopause and pack 30 pounds on her 5-foot-11 frame, she revealed this week.
Kurkova, now 27, discussed the maladies linked to her malfunctioning thyroid gland during a panel discussion on models' health and eating disorders sponsored by the Council of Fashion Designers of America.
"I was 24 and going through menopause — that was one of my side effects," Kurkova explained Tuesday. "I thought I was going crazy. I was having panic attacks every minute and I didn't know what was happening, because I've been a healthy person. I've exercised all my life. I've always eaten well and taken care of myself."
Despite going through early menopause from a thyroid disorder she didn't identify by name, Kurkova went on to give birth to a son on Oct. 29, 2009.
The weight gain, panic attacks and premature menopause that Kurkova described do not point to a single thyroid diagnosis, according to a thyroid specialist not involved in her care. "The totality doesn't fit into one, neat little package," said Dr. Robert McConnell, co-director of the New York Thyroid Center at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center.
For example, he said, Kurkova's 30-pound weight gain isn't what's commonly associated with an under-active thyroid gland. Weight gain caused by hypothyroidism, in which the thyroid gland produces too little thyroid hormone, is typically modest, "maybe five to six pounds, and it's typically half-fat, half-water," McConnell said. "People whose thyroid function is low get puffy and waterlogged. Their hands are puffy, their feet are puffy and their face is puffy," he said. They also may have cold intolerance, achiness and feel sluggish and depressed.
Although weight gain and early menopause in a young woman suggests low thyroid, the panic attacks Kurkova mentioned are more commonly associated with a disorder at the other end of the thyroid dysfunction spectrum, called hyperthyroidism, in which an overactive thyroid gland produces too much thyroid hormone. That tends to drive weight loss, typically 5 to 10 pounds, McConnell said. Patients with overactive thyroids may feel anxious, sweaty and restless.