Are you experiencing fatigue, forgetfulness, mood swings, weight gain, irregular menstrual cycles? These are often symptoms of menopause, however, they can be symptoms of thyroid disease.
If your thyroid is out of control, all of your efforts to curb your perimenopause and menopausal symptoms and achieve hormone happiness will be for naught. The symptoms of menopause and thyroid disease are very similar. So you may find your symptoms might not be due to menopause at all. Or, if you are like me, you could be in perimenopause and find out you also have Hashimotos Disease which results in hypothyroidism. I call that, a perfect storm!
Here is a little thyroid 101:
We have a small (2 inches long), butterfly-shaped thyroid gland weighing in at 1 ounce, located in the front of our neck that can affect everything we do and are! This gland has two lobes that pump out thyroid hormones which are powerful chemicals that work with just about every system in our body. They work to keep our brain sharp, our energy levels up, our reproductive system churning, and our skin, nails, and hair beautiful.
This little gland makes two thyroid hormones, triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) which impact our metabolism, breathing, heart and nervous system functions, body temperature, muscle strength, skin dryness, menstrual cycles, weight, and cholesterol levels. For us women, thyroid disease can have negative effects on puberty, pregnancy, menopause, and fertility according to Johns Hopkins.
So when it goes on the fritz—everything suffers, and get this; most of those victims are women.
Thyroid disease, generally, comes in two flavors: over-active (hyperthyroidism) and under-active (hypothyroidism).
Be sure to ask your menopause specialist to check your thyroid function when you have your menopausal evaluation! Before your appointment, chart your symptoms to keep track of what you’re experiencing. Remember, the blood work is half of the story, the other half is how you feel. This chart will help you communicate this to your doctor. After all, in the end, the only surefire way to tell if your symptoms come from a lack of thyroid hormone or a lack of estrogen is to get your hormones tested.
The most common test to ID a thyroid gland gone haywire is a TSH test, which measures your blood’s levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone, a hormone that tells your thyroid to get to work. In the case of an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), TSH levels will be markedly elevated, while low levels can be caused by several conditions, meaning that more testing will be needed to determine if the cause is an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism).
Are you hyper or hypo???
There is an increase of hormones in hyperthyroidism, which causes metabolism and other bodily functions to speed up. Symptoms of hyperthyroidism which may include weight loss, rapid heartbeat, insomnia, irritability, trembling hands, heat intolerance, and a constantly “wired” feeling—generally catch women’s attention sooner than those of hypothyroidism. A common cause of hyperthyroidism is Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disorder of the thyroid.
However, an underactive thyroid, called hypothyroidism, is a whole different story. In hypothyroidism, not enough hormone is produced, so the metabolism and the body slow down. A common cause of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto’s disease.
An underactive thyroid can lead to fatigue, brain fog, irregular menstrual periods, weight gain, depression, constipation, muscle aches, infertility, constantly feeling cold, and even hair loss—all of which also can occur during perimenopause and into menopause. Five to eight times as many women have hypothyroidism than hyperthyroidism.
There’s really not much you can do to prevent hypothyroidism as it is largely not under our control. Family history may be the greatest indicator of troubles ahead, but since so many people are undiagnosed, you could have a family history of thyroid disease and have no clue about it – like me. My Mom was unaware that she should tell her children she was hypo. After I was diagnosed with Hashimotos Disease, I immediately called my children and told them to get tested. My daughter is hypo. My son is not. Had my daughter not been aware of this important information, it could have affected her fertility. (BTW, she needed to tweak her thyroid meds during her pregnancy.) Some women develop antibodies to their own thyroid during pregnancy, so if you have postpartum thyroiditis, your chances of developing permanent hypothyroidism are also increased. Polycystic ovary syndrome also increases your risk.
Luckily, in most cases, simply taking thyroid meds can result in complete symptom resolution. It sure did for me!
Be sure to ask your Menopause Specialist to do a TSH screening test. This is the first step in testing your thyroid function.
Remember: Suffering in silence is OUT! Reaching out is IN.
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