Thyroid disease is more commonly found in women compared to men. Indeed, one in eight women will be affected by a thyroid condition at some point in her life. What is more, the incidences of thyroid disease are highest among menopausal and postmenopausal women. While the connection between thyroid disease and women is not well understood, there is certainly a correlation that endocrinologists and women’s health experts are seeking to better understand. Let’s dive into the complex relationship between your thyroid and menopause.
What is the thyroid?
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped organ that resides at the nape of your neck. This two-inch-long organ is the metabolic powerhouse of your body. It sends hormone signals throughout your body via your circulatory system to regulate every organ system. Diseases of the thyroid result in either too much or too little thyroid hormone being produced. When something is not well with the thyroid, everything in your body can be affected.
What is the function of a thyroid?
The primary function of the thyroid gland is to make thyroid hormones. These hormones control metabolic processes in your body. From determining the rate at which you burn fat to the rate of your resting heart rate, your thyroid plays a role in every organ system in your body. When the thyroid is not able to produce enough thyroid hormone, or it produces too much hormone, you can experience a number of unpleasant symptoms that can wreak havoc on your body.
There are two primary thyroid dysfunctions: hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.
Hypothyroidism - Also called underactive thyroid, this is where too little thyroid hormone is produced and there is not enough hormone to support optimum cellular functioning. There are various causes of hypothyroidism. In the United States, the autoimmune disorder Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is the most common cause of hypothyroidism. In this condition, your immune system attacks your thyroid gland as it perceives the gland as foreign. Therefore, chronic inflammation causes the cells in your thyroid gland to not work properly, or to cease functioning altogether. Other causes of hypothyroidism include:
Surgical removal of all or part of the gland
Radiation treatment of the gland
Too much or too little iodine (an essential nutrient necessary for building thyroid hormone)
Pituitary gland damage (this is the gland in your brain that oversees the thyroid)
Hyperthyroidism - Also known as overactive thyroid, this condition is where too much thyroid hormone is produced. Most cases of hyperthyroidism are caused by the autoimmune disorder Graves’ disease, which tends to be a genetic condition. Hyperthyroidism due to Graves’ disease is most commonly diagnosed in young women. However, the reason why young women are at greater risk for this condition is not well understood.
Thyroid Problems Symptoms List
The symptoms you may experience depend on the type of thyroid condition present in your body. We already know that the thyroid and menopause are in some way linked. However, it is important to note that hypothyroidism and menopause are more common compared to hyperthyroidism and menopause. Because hypothyroidism is more common in menopausal and post-menopausal women, let’s review hypothyroidism symptoms:
Thinning hair, especially common is eyebrow thinning
High blood pressure
Increased risk for heart attack
If you are reviewing the above list and are thinking, “How the hell am I supposed to tell if my symptoms are related to menopause or hypothyroidism?” You are not alone! There is a lot of crossover between conditions of the thyroid and menopause, especially hypothyroidism and menopause.
How to tell the difference between thyroid and menopause symptoms
If you have any of the above symptoms and are in the age range for perimenopause and menopause, you may be wondering how to tell the difference between thyroid and menopause symptoms. As it is more likely for women to be diagnosed with hypothyroidism in menopause and postmenopause, it can certainly be a factor contributing to your symptoms. A good place to start when you are trying to identify what is causing your frustrating symptoms is to take a quick look at your family history. There is a strong genetic component to thyroid conditions. If any women in your family have thyroid disease, it increases your odds of having a thyroid condition as well.
Fortunately, it is relatively easy to detect whether your symptoms are related to your thyroid or menopause. Your doctor can order a simple blood test that examines thyroid hormone levels in your bloodstream. Specifically, your doctor will likely order a T4 and TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) test. He or she may also add on additional thyroid tests including a T3 and TPO antibodies (to assess for autoimmune disease). If your results indicate thyroid dysfunction, your doctor will likely recommend you take synthetic thyroid hormone medication to help restore balance in your body. Once your medication has been titrated to the perfect dose necessary for your body, your symptoms will begin to improve remarkably.
The symptoms of hypothyroidism, perimenopause, and menopause can be so challenging to navigate through. And while it can feel like a lonely season of life, you do not have to experience it alone and without support from other women going through the same symptoms and emotions. Join our Perry Community of incredible women to find support and gain valuable insight into how to manage your thyroid and menopause symptoms from experts. See you in the Perry Community!
Disclaimer: This is not medical advice, does not take the place of medical advice from your physician, and is not intended to treat or cure any disease. Patients should see a qualified medical provider for assessment and treatment.
Meet the Author
Perry Babe Julia ( RN, BSN, BA) is a registered nurse based in Colorado. Julia's nursing background in women’s health has ranged from neonatal and postpartum care to labor and delivery, to outpatient gynecological medicine for both adolescent and adult populations.
Much of her education and clinical experience are related to educating women on women’s health topics ranging from lifestyle improvements, disease management, and general health education.
Find Julia's Perry community profile right here.
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