Can Menopause Cause Thyroid Problems?
Thyroid problems are common among older women. They can often go undiagnosed because their symptoms are similar to those of menopause. However, it is important that thyroid disorders are detected and treated promptly to maintain optimal health. But can menopause cause thyroid problems?
This article explores the relationship between menopause and thyroid problems, their symptoms and how to manage them. Here’s all you need to know.
Hormones, Menopause and Thyroid Health
Hormones are chemicals that deliver signals from one part of the body to another. They are secreted by specialized organs called endocrine glands.
For instance, the ovaries produce reproductive hormones, like estrogen and progesterone. Meanwhile, the thyroid gland produces thyroid hormones, which control how our cells use energy. The release and functions of these hormones are regulated by the pituitary gland in the brain.
The way our bodies make and use hormones change as we age. Menopause is one of the most obvious examples. After menopause, the ovaries stop making estrogen and progesterone and the menstrual cycle ends.
However, these hormones do not only affect the menstrual cycle. They influence many of the body’s other tissues and organs too. This is why menopause is associated with such a broad range of physical and emotional symptoms.
Aging can also affect the thyroid gland. The organ tends to shrink as we grow older and it produces less of the thyroid hormones T3 (triiodothyronine) and T4 (thyroxine). As a result, the pituitary gland releases more of the thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) in an attempt to increase production.
The thyroid gland’s ability to use iodine also decreases with age. Iodine is a mineral that is essential for healthy thyroid function. In some people, these changes can lead to an underactive thyroid, also known as hypothyroidism.
Hypothyroidism is far more common in women than men, leading some experts to believe that estrogen plays a role. So, how does menopause affect the thyroid gland? Let’s take a look.
Can Menopause Cause Hypothyroidism?
Hypothyroidism is the medical term for an underactive thyroid. It means that the gland is not producing enough hormones to meet the body’s needs.
There are many different reasons why people develop hypothyroidism. One of the most common is an autoimmune condition known as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Certain medications or treatments like radiation therapy can also reduce thyroid function.
But what about menopause? The exact relationship between menopause and thyroid function is still unclear. However, it seems that estrogen may play a role. Cells in the thyroid gland have receptors that respond to estrogen, suggesting that the hormone has some influence here.
Far more research is required before we fully understand the connection between menopause and thyroid problems. But what we do know is that they share similar symptoms. This means that thyroid disorders in menopausal women can sometimes be hard to diagnose.
Symptoms of Thyroid Problems and Menopause
Some of the most common symptoms of hypothyroidism that overlap with menopause include:
- Weight gain.
- Mood changes.
- Poor memory.
- Slow thinking.
- Irregular menstruation.
- Dry skin.
- Thinning head hair.
Some of the symptoms of an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) can also be mistaken for menopausal symptoms, including:
- Heat intolerance.
- Heart palpitations.
Anyone experiencing these symptoms should ask their healthcare provider to run some tests to check whether they are due to menopause or thyroid problems. They will then be able to treat the underlying cause accordingly.
How to Manage Thyroid Problems While Going Through Menopause
Untreated thyroid problems can increase the risk of several common post-menopausal health conditions, including heart disease, bone fractures and cognitive decline.
Therefore, it is crucial to get an accurate diagnosis and start treatment as soon as possible in order to stay healthy.
The most common treatment for hypothyroidism is a drug called levothyroxine. It is a synthetic form of T4 and works similarly inside the body. It is necessary to take this medicine daily and have regular check-ups to monitor how well it is working.
People who take levothyroxine may find that they need to reduce their dosage during the menopausal transition. Likewise, those who use hormone replacement therapy may need to increase their levothyroxine dose. Discuss any medication changes with your physician first.
People with an overactive thyroid will usually receive treatment to block their thyroid hormones’ effects. This could be in the form of oral medication, radioactive thyroid therapy, or surgery to remove the thyroid gland.
Natural Remedies and Thyroid Health
Many people consider using natural remedies to help reduce menopausal symptoms.
One of the most popular options is soy isoflavones. These chemicals are known as phytoestrogens, meaning they act like estrogen in the body. Some people believe they can be helpful during menopause, although there is little clinical evidence to support this.
However, there is some research suggesting that soy products could impact thyroid function. For example, they appear to affect how the body absorbs and uses iodine. Therefore, anyone regularly-consuming large quantities of soy should ensure they have an adequate iodine intake to prevent thyroid problems.
Soy products might also affect levothyroxine absorption and should not be taken at the same time as this medicine.
Other natural remedies may also interfere with thyroid function and treatment. Therefore, anyone considering taking them should consult a physician first.
Thyroid, Menopause and Bone Health
Both menopause and thyroid disorders can have a negative impact on bone health. Therefore, it is essential to eat plenty of foods that are rich in bone-friendly nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, silicon, vitamin D and vitamin K.
Good sources include dairy products, almonds, whole grains, oily fish and leafy greens. Sunlight on the skin is also a good natural source of vitamin D. Alternatively, ask your physician whether a daily supplement may be beneficial.
Thyroid, Menopause and Heart Health
Menopause and thyroid problems can impact heart heath too, increasing the risk of high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease.
The best way to protect the heart is by eating well, being physically active and cutting out additional risk factors, like smoking. Regular cholesterol and blood pressure check-ups are also essential to monitor heart health and stay on track.