The Link Between Thyroid and Menopause

Aging brings a lot of changes in the body. But just what is behind those changes? As women enter their 40s and 50s, they find several changes begin and often blame “the change of life” on Menopause. However, this is the prime time for the diagnosis of thyroid diseases. So, which is the problem? Or is there a connection?

Key takeaways:

A quick overview

The thyroid

The thyroid gland makes hormones that control several functions throughout the body. These hormones control the heart, digestion, breathing, body temperature, and many other bodily functions. Thyroid hormones include:

  • Thyroxine (T4).
  • Triiodothyronine (T3).
  • Calcitonin.

When these hormone levels are altered, the body's systems don’t work the way they should. There may be symptoms that suggest a problem, or there may not be. Symptoms may be so gradual they go unnoticed, or they could be easily mistaken for other issues.

Menopause

The National Institute of Aging and the World Health Organization describe menopause as the change in life stages when women:

  • No longer have periods.
  • Cannot become pregnant.
  • Have not had a period for 12 full months.

Menopause is often mistaken for the time when periods become irregular, hormones fluctuate, hot flashes and night sweats occur, and mood changes and depression are common, among other symptoms. However, this is known as perimenopause.

Perimenopause typically begins between ages 45-55, though some women experience early symptoms. It can last an average of seven years but as many as ten to 15.

The hormone changes that occur with menopause leave women open to health issues like:

  • Heart disease.
  • Weight gain.
  • Osteoporosis.

Is there a connection between the thyroid and menopause?

As women reach menopause and their body begins to change. Many also start to notice changes in their thyroid. Could this be a coincidence?

Menopause and thyroid changes that can occur as women age have similar symptoms. It can be difficult to tell the difference. Women, and healthcare providers alike, may automatically assume these symptoms are being caused by menopause. The likely culprit.

What are the symptoms of thyroid changes and menopause?

Menopause

The signs and symptoms of menopause begin with perimenopause, which can be up to 10 years before menopause. This can starts roughly around age 45 for most women, though everyone is different. Signs that perimenopause is occurring:

  • Hot flashes.
  • Difficulty sleeping, staying asleep, or getting to sleep.
  • Changes in your period: heavier, closer together, farther apart, longer, spotting.
  • Mood changes, irritability, depression.
  • Bladder incontinence or issues holding urine.
  • Decreased muscle and increased fat.
  • Memory issues.
  • Discomfort with sexual intercourse related to vaginal dryness.
  • Headaches.
  • General aches and pains.
  • Heart palpitations.

Thyroid

Signs of thyroid disorders can vary from person to person. There are several thyroid disorders, including hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, Grave’s disease, and others. Each has different signs and symptoms.

Thyroid symptoms vary depending on the disorder. Signs of these disorders can be similar to those of other diseases or life stages like menopause.

  • Moodiness, irritability, or anxiety.
  • Difficulty sleeping.
  • Feeling tired.
  • Weight gain or loss.
  • Irregular, more frequent, or heavier menstrual periods.
  • Muscle or joint pain.
  • Hot flashes.
  • Heart palpitations.
  • Hair loss.
  • Forgetfulness.

Other symptoms are related to these disorders as well but aren’t as similar to menopause symptoms.

How to tell the difference

If you’re experiencing these symptoms and unsure whether to blame menopause or your thyroid, talk with your provider. Thyroid disorders are common among women, especially after menopause. Women are also up to eight times more likely than men to be diagnosed with a thyroid disorder than men. There’s a good chance you may experience both.

Thyroid disorders are easily diagnosed. Your healthcare provider will do a physical exam and feel for signs of a thyroid disorder. Your provider will order blood tests and, if necessary, an ultrasound to look at the thyroid.

Blood tests are the best way to determine if your thyroid is working properly. Your provider will check Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), a hormone produced by the pituitary gland that regulates the thyroid hormones. An abnormal TSH is the first sign the thyroid isn’t functioning properly. They will also check the thyroid hormones – T4, Free T4, T3, and Free T3 to help track poor thyroid function.

Thyroid disorders can mess with the reproductive system. There is a link between the thyroid and the reproductive organs known as the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) axis. The HPG axis regulates hormones released from the ovaries, estrogen and progesterone.

When women reach menopause, the ovaries decrease the production of estrogen and progesterone. The HPG axis works on a loop. When one side changes, it creates a reaction, and the other side responds. In this case, the pituitary gland that releases TSH to control the thyroid is affected. So, the thyroid gets mixed messages from the pituitary and may begin releasing different levels of T4 or T3.

FAQ

What should I do if I’m concerned?

If you have concerns about whether your symptoms are menopause related or tied to your thyroid, contact your healthcare provider. Thyroid testing is simple. Treatments are available if your thyroid is to blame.

Your provider may also be able to help you navigate your symptoms if they are not related to your thyroid. Menopause symptoms can be treatable too. You do not have to suffer just because this is a part of life. Talk with your provider about options.

Menopause occurs for most women between their mid-40s to mid-50s. As a natural part of life, many women accept that the symptoms are normal. However, sometimes the symptoms are caused by other issues, like the thyroid. Thyroid disorders can have similar symptoms, making discovering and treating them difficult. The hormones in both systems can change due to menopause, so it may be one, the other, or both at fault.



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