How Menopause and Thyroid Disorders Commonly Share Symptoms
Thyroid problems and menopause share many of the same symptoms. They’re both common in middle age women, hard to identify, and can manifest in weight gain, fatigue, and mood swings. As we begin to view menopause as a holistic experience that affects our entire body, it’s important to take a look at what this little gland could mean for our overall health.
Is This Menopause Or My Thyroid?
Located at the front of the neck is a small but mighty gland known as the thyroid.1 It produces hormones, which affect several critical functions in the body from brain development and metabolism to body temperature, muscle strength, weight control, and cholesterol levels.2 While thyroid hormones are an important part of many of these processes, complications can arise if the thyroid makes too few or too many of these hormone.1
There are two types of thyroid disorders: when a thyroid gland does not produce enough hormones (hypothyroidism) and when it produces too many hormones (hyperthyroidism). Both types, however, show symptoms that can easily be mistaken for menopause.
Hyperthyroidism is the least common type and yet it still affects 1 out of 100 Americans over age 12.1 The most common indicators of hyperthyroidism include unplanned weight loss, goiters (enlarged thyroid glands) or a condition known as exophthalmos (or bulging eyes).3 But hyperthyroidism also shares many symptoms with menopause, including:4
- Hot flashes
- Rapid changes in mood
Hypothyroidism is the most common type of thyroid problem, affecting nearly 1 out of 20 Americans over age 12.1 The risk of developing hypothyroidism only increases with age and especially so in women.4 While hypothyroidism can be very subtle, it also shares many symptoms with menopause, including:4
- Weight gain
- Muscle cramps
- Brittle hair
- Rough, dry skin
- Menstrual abnormalities
Thyroid problems affect as many as 27 million Americans, but thyroid disorders themselves can be difficult to diagnose.1,2 It can be hard to tell whether those sudden bouts of fatigue are just a natural part of aging or a sign of a larger issue. This is just another reason why menopause can be the perfect time to check in with your doctor.
What Menopause Means For Your Thyroid
While thyroid diseases can affect anyone, they are most common in women. This presents its own unique sets of challenges, especially during menopause. Estrogen is known to enhance thyroid function and to have a direct effect on thyroid cells.5,6 Low estrogen levels can impair thyroid function.6 This can be exacerbated in those with an increased risk of hypothyroidism. Studies show menopausal symptoms are more intense for women with hypothyroidism.7
Thyroid problems can also be the result of an autoimmune disease, in which the immune system mistakenly destroys its cells.1 Menopause may change the way some thyroid diseases manifest symptoms—particularly autoimmune diseases, making it that much more important to consult with your health care practitioner.4 Other complications can arise as well. For example, postmenopausal women are already at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis and cardiovascular diseases.4,8 Hypothyroidism may further reduce bone density and can increase the risk of certain heart disorders.4,9 Untreated thyroid disease heightens the risk of developing both of these conditions.4
There are ways to test your thyroid hormone to ensure your thyroid is producing the right amount. Also, knowing your family’s health history may help you know which complications you may be more prone to developing as well. It’s never too late to start preventive care! As always, listen to your body and be sure to give yourself the care and attention you deserve.
Getting To Know Your Gland
Menopause is a whole-body experience and can sometimes result in complications that aren’t often associated with it. This makes it even more important to schedule a regular appointment with your doctor. Talk about any changes you’re feeling, no matter how small. Jot down notes about your symptoms before you go, so you don’t forget any. Your body is adjusting to a lot of new things at once. Explore every option you can. Ask your friends about their experiences with thyroid diseases or learn about your family history.
This tiny gland can have a big impact on your overall health, especially during menopause. If you were looking for an excuse (not that you needed one) to get to know your body better, menopause is it!
- News In Health. “Thinking About Your Thyroid.” 2015. US Department of Health and Human Services. Accessed on: December 19, 2019. <https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2015/09/thinking-about-your-thyroid>
- National Institutes of Health. “NIDDK Publishes Fact Sheets About Thyroid Disorders.” 2008. US Department of Health and Human Services. Accessed on: December 19, 2019. <https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/niddk-publishes-fact-sheets-about-thyroid-disorders>
- The North American Menopause Society. “Is It Menopause or a Thyroid Problem?” 2019. Accessed on: December 19, 2019. <https://www.menopause.org/for-women/menopauseflashes/menopause-symptoms-and-treatments/is-it-menopause-or-a-thyroid-problem->
- del Ghianda, S et al. “Thyroid and menopause.” Climacteric. 2014; 14(3): 225–234.
- Santin, A et al. “Role of Estrogen in Thyroid Function and Growth Regulation.” J Thyroid Res. 2011; 2011: 875125. Doi: 10.4061/2011/875125.
- Panda, S et al. Analyzing Thyroid Dysfunction in the Climacteric. J Midlife Health. 2018; 9(3): 113–116.
- Hernández, V et al. “Hypothyroidism associated to menopause symptoms worsening change with thyroid substitution therapy”. Ginecol Obstet Mex. 2008; 76(10): 571–5.
- Biondi, B et al. “Hypothyroidism as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.” Endocrine. 2004; 24(1): 1–13.
- National Osteoporosis Foundation. “What Women Need To Know.” 2019. Accessed on: December 19, 2019. <https://www.nof.org/preventing-fractures/general-facts/what-women-need-to-know/>