The thyroid gland is butterfly-shaped and will be found in the front of an individual’s neck. It is responsible for the production of thyroxine (T4) and tri-iodothyronine (T3). The production of these two hormones is regulated by the secretion of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which is produced in the pituitary gland.
Thyroid levels such as T4 and T3 need to be in normal range. Once thyroid levels are below or higher than the normal range symptoms will start to show, and this could lead to health risks. Symptoms for menopause and hyper/hypothyroidism are similar and it is important to speak to a doctor to make the correct diagnosis and recommend the correct treatment.
Signs Of Thyroid Problems
There are two types of thyroid problems namely, underactive, and overactive thyroid.
Underactive thyroid is also known as hypothyroidism. The two most common causes of hypothyroidism are autoimmune thyroid disease (Hashimoto’s disease) and side effects of treatment for an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism). An individual's metabolic rate slows down during hypothyroidism. Symptoms of hypothyroidism are weight gain, tiredness, dry skin and hair and difficulty concentrating. Thyroid hormone replacement of Thyroxine is recommended for hypothyroidism.
The two most common causes of hyperthyroidism are autoimmune thyroid disease (Grave’s disease) and one or more benign (non-cancerous) thyroid nodules. Dyring hyperthyroidism the opposite happens of hypothyroidism. The metabolic rate will be faster which will result in weight loss, sweating, sleeping problems, heart palpitations and anxiety. Anti-thyroid medication is prescribed for hyperthyroidism.
Women With Thyroid Problems
With age the risk of developing an underactive thyroid gland increases. Women are more prone to develop an underactive thyroid gland than men. This means it is often seen in middle-aged menopausal women to have an underactive thyroid gland. Diagnosing an underactive thyroid gland is sometimes difficult in menopausal women since the symptoms are similar and overlapping. The burden of symptoms facing menopause and an underactive thyroid gland can have a negative impact on midlife women.
Can Oestrogen Affect The Thyroxine Dose?
During the menopausal transition stage, the thyroxine dose may require some changes. This can result in changing oestrogen dosages which might impact an individual’s weight. It is recommended for women with thyroid problems to see a doctor yearly for blood tests.
Hormone Replacement Therapy And Thyroid Replacement Therapy
Using hormone replacement therapy is the most effective treatment for menopausal-related symptoms. Should women experience menopausal symptoms, hormone replacement therapy is usually the first-line treatment.
Women with normal thyroid function usually react well to hormone replacement therapy, and the therapy does not interfere with their thyroid function remains normal.
Having a thyroid disorder does not mean that the individual can not use hormone replacement therapy. Women with hypothyroidism may need to increase their dose of thyroxine since oestrogen can decrease the effect thyroxine has on the body. It is recommended for menopausal women to do thyroid function tests after starting with hormone replacement therapy. When oestrogen is absorbed transdermal by a patch, spray or gel the dose of thyroxine will not be affected. Only when oestrogen is given orally, it can affect the thyroxine dose and would need adjustment.
Osteoporosis And Thyroid
Decreased bone density is the result of low oestrogen levels during menopause, this can lead to osteoporosis, and increase the chances for fracture or breaking of bones. The thyroid gland has a role to play in bone health. A woman who is post-menopausal and is diagnosed with hyperthyroidism is at risk for a hip fracture. Thyroid hormones are important for healthy skeletal development and normal bone metabolism.
Over-excessive thyroid medication for hypothyroidism can cause an increase in osteoclasts. This is where bones break down bones in the body and increases the risk of breaking or fracturing a bone. Bone weakness can be due to thyroid medication. Thyroxine speeds up the turnover process for bone. This will result in the new bone that is produced can’t keep pace with the amount broken down. This will result in bone gradually becoming weaker.
Is It Menopause Or A Thyroid Condition?
Since hypothyroidism and menopause have similar symptoms it will be difficult to diagnose. It is important that women who suspect that they could have hypothyroidism be seen by a medical professional. So that the necessary tests can be conducted to confirm the diagnosis.
Can Having A Thyroid Condition Make Menopause Worse?
Yes, a thyroid condition can make menopause symptoms worse. Each individual will experience menopause symptoms differently. Symptoms such as weight gain and dry skin and hair are common symptoms of menopause but are also common symptoms of hypothyroidism. For someone with hyperthyroidism and menopause hot flushes and night sweats are common symptoms for both conditions. This indicates that the duration of symptoms might last longer than usual if women are diagnosed with a thyroid condition and menopause.
Can Hypothyroidism Cause Early Menopause?
Before the age of 40 or early 40’s, thyroid disorders can be the reason for the early onset of menopause. Symptoms of hyperthyroidism can be mistaken for early menopause. Symptoms such as night sweats, hot flushes, menstrual cycle that stops and mood swings. Treating hyperthyroidism can decrease menopausal-like symptoms.
What Triggers Thyroid Problems?
Thyroid problems can be caused by the following:
- Iodine deficiency – a common symptom of iodine deficiency is a lump in the neck (also known as a goiter)
- Autoimmune diseases – the immune system gets attacked by the thyroid (Grave’s or Hashimoto’s disease)
- Inflammation of the thyroid gland (thyroiditis)
- Thyroid cancer
- Medical treatments – such as radiation therapy and thyroid surgery