The symptoms of thyroid disease and menopause can be similar. We all know that menopause is not an illness but it can feel that way if your thyroid is low or borderline during this transitional phase of your life.
Your thyroid produces hormones that affect and regulate your overall body metabolism and is an integral part of your complete health picture. Your thyroid has an impact on the heart, brain, kidney and reproductive system, along with muscle strength and appetite. The thyroid is a small butterfly shaped gland at the front of the neck below the voice box.
There are several types of thyroid disorder:
Hypothyroidism, Hyperthyroidism, Postpartum Thyroid, Thyroid Cancer.
Hypothyroidism is defined as low thyroid function (underactive) - your thyroid is not producing enough of the hormone.
Hyperthyroidism refers to an overactive thyroid - your thyroid is producing too much of the hormone.
Both Hypo and Hyperthyroidism occur more frequently in women. Thyroid disease can begin at any time, most commonly between 35 and 65. Menopause most commonly takes place between 45 and 55 (average age for actual menopause is 52) with perimenopause symptoms starting as early as 35-40.
The majority of postmenopausal women (you are considered postmenopausal when you have reached menopause; when you have not menstruated for a period of one year) with thyroid disorders will have either no or very subtle, understated symptoms. This condition is known as subclinical thyroid disease - most of these women will have an underactive thyroid condition called hypothyroidism.
Subclinical: no striking effect upon your quality of life.
Many women are told that their symptoms are menopausal and that they are due to the natural decline in oestrogen level, however, the symptoms of thyroid disease and menopause are often the same, so thyroid disease may go unnoticed in women of menopausal age.
Thyroid disease symptoms often become worse during the onset of menopause, due to hormonal shifts (imbalance). Without a precise diagnosis of low-underactive thyroid, women are prescribed hormone replacement therapy but find that their symptoms persist.
If neither synthetic hormone replacement therapy HRT or natural hormone therapies give any degree of relief to your menopausal symptoms it could be due to an undiagnosed thyroid problem. Getting an underactive thyroid under control will not make your menopausal symptoms disappear but it should be a milder more comfortable transition.
Your thyroid is your energy throttle and when your thyroid level is too low you won't have the energy to cope with normal every day life.
How much energy to you have?
How well do you get up in the morning?
How well do you sleep?
How much stamina do you have throughout the day?
Despite the similarities between thyroid disease and menopause there are differences, for example:-
If you are experiencing neck pain, visual disturbances, loss of hair from your eyebrows or eyelashes, extreme weight fluctuation, swelling of arms/legs - these symptoms would not relate to menopause but are more likely to be related to a thyroid disorder.
Further similarities lie between hypothyroidism and depression. Symptoms such as fatigue, lack of motivation, mood swings and weight gain can be attributed to both and as a consequence is frequently under-diagnosed by healthcare professionals and is misdiagnosed as depression.
Feeling run down, sluggish
Feeling cold/cold extremities
Unexplained/excessive weight gain
Dry, coarse and or thinning hair
Dry, coarse and/or itchy skin
Increased menstrual flow
More frequent periods
Muscular weakness-upper arms and legs
Weight loss-despite good appetite
Lighter flow-less frequent periods
Rapid or irregular heart beat
Frequent bowel movements/diarrhea
Swollen neck-enlarged thyroid called a goiter
If you feel that your symptoms are persisting despite appropriate therapy, a simple blood test may be the solution to improving your quality of life in your menopausal years. Ask your healthcare professional for a TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) test or a FSH (Follice Stimulating Hormone) test to evaluate your oestrogen levels - or both.
A TSH test reading above normal is an indication of Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
A TSH test reading below normal will indicate that you have Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid)
Hypothyroidism can be treated with thyroid hormone replacement which is known to be generally very effective, most people noticing an improvement within a week and with all symptoms disappearing within a few months.
Hyperthyroidism is most commonly treated with anti thyroid medication or radioactive iodine and less commonly by surgical removal of the thyroid gland.