Hypothyroidism and Menopause

What is the Thyroid Gland?

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located near your Adam’s apple that produces the hormones triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4).6 T3 and T4 regulate all aspects of your metabolism, such as maintaining the rate that your body uses carbohydrates, helping to control your body temperature, and regulating protein production.9

What is the Hypothyroidism?

Hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid, is a condition in which the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough T3 and T4.6

Hypothyroidism During Menopause

Hypothyroidism and menopause are conditions both affected by the female hormone estrogen. Studies have shown that low levels of estrogen can affect the thyroid function and during menopause, estrogen levels decrease. Additionally, thyroid function is also affected when progesterone levels decline and estrogen/progesterone levels fall out of balance, a condition known as estrogen dominance.3

Symptoms of Hypothyroidism and Menopause

Many of the symptoms of hypothyroidism are often mistaken for menopause. In fact, some research suggests that a thyroid dysfunction can actually cause menopausal symptoms to develop.1

Though not all cases of hypothyroidism have symptoms, common symptoms may include:6

  • Hair loss
  • Dry hair
  • Constipation
  • Tingling in the fingers
  • Muscle cramps
  • Dry skin and puffiness in the face, hands, and feet

The most common symptoms of menopause include:8

  • Hot flashes
  • A loss of bladder control
  • Changes in the vaginal lining leading to painful intercourse
  • Changes in breast shape
  • Thinning skin
  • Bone loss
  • An increased risk of bad cholesterol and heart disease

Symptoms that are common in both hypothyroidism and menopause include:2

  • Irregular menstrual cycles
  • Weight gain
  • Fatigue
  • Forgetfulness
  • Intolerance to cold or heat
  • Mood swings

Due to similarities of these two conditions, many women are treated for their menopausal-like symptoms, while their hypothyroidism goes undiagnosed. A survey conducted by the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists found that only 1 in 4 women who discussed menopause symptoms with their healthcare providers were ever tested for thyroid disease.

Dangers of High Estrogen Levels

High estrogen levels are responsible for more than just causing symptoms of hypothyroidism. Studies suggest that different ratios of the estrogen receptors alpha and beta within thyroid tissues can affect the growth of cancer cells.7 Additionally, estrogen serves as a chemical enhancer to the body’s natural immune response, so alterations in estrogen levels can cause serious effects on the body.3 In fact, most cases of hypothyroidism are considered by healthcare providers to be caused by autoimmune disease, or when the body produces antibodies to attack the thyroid gland6.

Finding Treatment for Hypothyroidism and Menopause

About 20 million Americans suffer from some kind of a thyroid disease.6 If you suspect that you have symptoms of either hypothyroidism or menopause, you owe it to yourself to be tested.

One of the easiest ways to detect a thyroid issue is to check for bulges in your neck, especially when you swallow.6

Clinical tests for menopause or thyroid disease can also be administered by your healthcare provider. Tests to detect a thyroid disease can be used to measure free T3 and T4 uptake, as well as total T3 and T4 uptake.6 Negative results on these tests can rule out hypothyroidism, and open the door to tests for menopause, such as testing your follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and estrogen levels.4

Hormone imbalances are not conditions that should be taken lightly, nor are they something that you should have to deal with alone. To learn more about thyroid hormone level testing, click here.

References

1. A. Badawy, O. State, S. Sherief. Can thyroid dysfunction explicate severe menopausal symptoms? Journal of obstetrics and gynecology: the journal of the Institute of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 2007 Jul;27(5):503-5.

2. Is It Menopause or a Thyroid Problem? The North American Menopause Society, 2017.

3. Maurizio Cutolo, et al. Estrogens and autoimmune diseases. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 2006 Nov; 1089: 538–547.

4. Menopause. Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER), 2017, August 7, par. Diagnosis.

5. M. S. Massoudi, et al. Prevalence of thyroid antibodies among healthy middle-aged women. Findings from the thyroid study in healthy women. Annals of Epidemiology. 1995 May; 5(3): 229–233.

6. Northrup, Christiane. What is Thyroid Disease? Common Thyroid Disease Symptoms To Look For. Christiane Northrup, Christiane Northrup, M.D.

7. Santin, Ana Paula, and Tania Weber Furlanetto. Role of Estrogen in Thyroid Function and Growth Regulation. Journal of Thyroid Research 2011 (2011): 875125.

8. Stöppler, Melissa Conrad. Menopause. eMedicineHealth. Shiel, William C. Jr, WebMD, Inc., 2017 September 11, pp. 2.

9. Mayo Clinic Staff. MayoClinic.org. Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid). https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hypothyroidism/symptoms-causes/syc-20350284. Published December 6, 2017. Accessed February 28, 2018.