During my late teen years, winter car rides usually meant driving with the front window down. ALL the way down. Even when it was snowing and blowing outside.
I didn’t get it at the time, but my poor mother was going through menopause, and the hot flashes were killing her!
People make jokes about this sort of thing and, in retrospect, it can be kind of funny.
But for menopausal women, the symptoms can be very, very hard to deal with. Some of them actually could lead to more permanent damage.
And, as if that weren’t enough, there’s another condition that middle-aged women are prone to that has many of the same symptoms and possible outcomes.
So, how do you tell the difference?
Is it menopause or a thyroid problem?
Hypothyroid, or low thyroid function, is nothing to laugh about. It can leave a person feeling constantly exhausted and depressed, watching themselves gain weight and lose their hair, without knowing why.
Hypothyroidism affects mostly middle-aged women. Research indicates that estrogen could very well play a role in this. The drop in estrogen that occurs at menopause could affect the function of thyroid receptors, the molecules that allow thyroid hormones to do their work.
On top of that, many of the symptoms of low thyroid function are similar to those of menopause. These symptoms include extreme fatigue, “brain fog,” or the inability to concentrate and learn, memory issues, mood swings and depression, and weight gain.
Other symptoms of hypothyroidism include increased sensitivity to cold, dry skin, muscle weakness and slowed heart rate.
Low thyroid function increases health complications of menopause
As luck would have it, two of the more serious complications of menopause are also possible complications of having low thyroid function. So, if you are a woman in menopause who also has hypothyroidism, it’s like a double whammy.
Both menopause and low thyroid function can worsen the long-term outlook for both osteoporosis and heart disease.
In menopause, the sharp decrease in the hormone estrogen causes bones to break down faster than they can be rebuilt. This puts a woman at higher risk for osteoporosis.
Hypothyroidism, too, affects the bones badly. Studies have shown that it can be the cause of increased fracture risk.
And then there’s heart disease.
When estrogen levels drop during menopause, a woman’s blood vessels tend to become stiffer and less elastic, and blood pressure tends to rise. These changes also can result from low thyroid function… another double whammy.
Getting your thyroid tested
So, how do you tease out whether you’ve actually got a thyroid problem, or are just experiencing menopausal symptoms?
The best way, of course, is to have your thyroid function tested.
Be aware, though, that if your doctor finds that your thyroid hormones fall within “normal” levels, you could still have a case of “subclinical” or undiagnosed hypothyroidism which also needs attention.
Unfortunately, many doctors rely on the basic test of thyroid hormones, the TSH test, to determine whether you have a thyroid problem. Here, Dr. Michael Cutler explains why this testing is insufficient and can miss a true case of hypothyroidism. He also explains what other tests should be done.
How to protect your thyroid at any age
Of course, it’s not only menopausal women who can develop hypothyroidism. Men and women of any age can have a slow thyroid function and the health problems that go with it.
Herbs and nutrients for your thyroid and Supplements and foods that boost your thyroid — and what to avoid will provide you with a wealth of advice regarding herbs, foods, and supplements to support your thyroid safely and naturally.
- Can thyroid dysfunction explicate severe menopausal symptoms? — Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology
- Role of Estrogen in Thyroid Function and Growth Regulation — Journal of Thyroid Research
- The influence of thyroid dysfunction on bone metabolism — Thyroid Research
- 8 Signs Your Heart Is Changing During Menopause — Everyday Health
- Hypothyroidism and the Heart — Houston Methodist DeBakey Cardiovascular Journal
- What Doctors Don’t See: Subclinical Hypothyroidism — Holtorf Medical Group