What You Should Know About Your Thyroid and Menopause

Medically reviewed by Debra Rose Wilson, PhD, MSN, RN, IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT on May 19, 2017Written by Neel Duggal

Overview

Hypothyroidism is also known as underactive thyroid. This condition affects the thyroid gland. People with this condition produce a low amount of thyroid hormone.

Hypothyroidism and menopause share some symptoms. Hypothyroidism is also most common in middle-aged women. It’s at this time that women are going through menopause.

Read on to learn more about the connection between menopause and your thyroid, and how symptoms and complications of menopause may be affected by hypothyroidism.

Estrogen and thyroid function

Estrogen levels significantly decrease during menopause. This causes many of the symptoms associated with menopause. Estrogen levels may also affect thyroid function.

In a peer-reviewed study from 2011, researchers examined the role that estrogen levels have on thyroid receptors. Thyroid receptors are the molecules that allow thyroid hormones to enter cells. Researchers found that estrogen levels might affect thyroid function and lead to thyroid disorders. More research is needed to better understand the relationship between these two hormones.

Can hypothyroidism affect menopausal symptoms?

Hypothyroidism can increase or worsen symptoms of menopause. A research study from 2007 showed that women with a thyroid disorder and severe menopause experienced improved symptoms after getting treated for the thyroid disorder. This suggests that treating thyroid disorders can help manage menopause symptoms.

Hypothyroidism and menopause also have many overlapping symptoms. Having both conditions may increase the risk and severity of these overlapping symptoms.

Symptoms

On average, menopause occurs at the age of 51 for women. Hypothyroidism can occur at any time.

The following symptoms are commonly seen in menopause and hypothyroidism:

MenopauseHypothyroidism
hot flashes and night sweatsincreased sensitivity to cold
irregularities in the lower urinary tract, such as frequent urination or excessive urination at nighthigher levels of blood lipids, such as triglycerides and cholesterol
disturbed sleepslower heart rate
problems focusing and learningpoor memory
changes in energy or feelings of fatiguepersistent fatigue or feelings of being tired
changes in body weight, such as a sudden increase in weightincrease in body fat
vulvovaginal atrophy and drynessweakness in muscles and joints
cessation of menstrual cyclesthinning of head hair
mood swingsdepression or sadness
hoarseness
dry, chapped skin

Can hypothyroidism lead to increased risk for complications in menopause?

Thyroid disorders may also increase your risk for long-term complications of menopause. One of the most common complications of menopause is osteoporosis, or loss of bone density. Research indicates that hypothyroidism can also reduce bone density. Caucasian women with low body fat are the highest risk group for osteoporosis.

Another common complication of menopause is increased risk of cardiovascular diseases. Low levels of thyroid hormones also increases risk of heart disorders.

Seeing your doctor

Talk to your doctor if you suspect thyroid issues or if you’re experiencing menopause symptoms. Your primary care doctor may refer you to an endocrinologist. You may also benefit from seeing a gynecologist.

When seeing your doctor, come prepared with the following information:

  • symptoms, especially fatigue, hot flashes, weight changes, and mood swings
  • severity and duration your symptoms and whether they have been worsening
  • a history of endocrine disorders in your family, especially related to thyroid disorders
  • irregularities in your menstrual cycle
  • your eating patterns

Checking for thyroid function

A few different blood tests can be used to check your thyroid function:

TSH test

Your doctor uses this test to look for the concentration of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) in your blood. Your body produces more TSH when the thyroid is less active. It also produces less T3 and T4 hormones. A below-normal level of TSH indicates hyperthyroidism, or an overactive thyroid. A high level indicates hypothyroidism.

Learn more: Hypothyroidism vs. hyperthyroidism: What’s the difference? »

T4 test

This test will look for the levels of T4 hormone in the blood. This hormone is either inactive and bound to proteins, or active and unbound. A high level indicates a possibility for hyperthyroidism.

T3 test

T3 is another hormone produced by the thyroid. Doctors use this test to confirm hyperthyroidism. Levels of T3 don’t decrease substantially until the condition is severe. Therefore, doctors and lab technicians will use another test to determine hypothyroidism.

TSI test

This test is used to identify the presence of an antibody called thyroid-stimulating immunoglobulin, which is present in people with Graves’ disease. Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disorder that affects thyroid function. This test is most often used on pregnant women or people who may have Graves’ disease.

Outlook

Hypothyroidism and menopause share some symptoms. Research also indicates levels of estrogen may impact levels of thyroid hormones. Other research suggests that hypothyroidism can increase symptoms and complications of menopause. You may experience symptoms such as fatigue and weight changes. If these symptoms are persistent, talk to your doctor and provide them with detailed information about your symptoms and menstrual cycle.

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