Is It Menopause or Your Thyroid?

By: Red Hot Mamas

Published: June 16, 2014

If you haven’t been feeling yourself for months lacking energy, feeling cold all the time or feeling warm, not remembering things, you may have a thyroid problem.

Each day, thousands of middle aged women visit their doctors with complaints like those just described or other symptoms like infrequent periods, weight gain and fatigue.

In some cases, these women are diagnosed with symptoms of menopause and sent home with information about lifestyle modifications and menopause treatment options to alleviate their symptoms.  However, what many of these women don’t know that they could be suffering from thyroid disease.

Women are more subject to thyroid disease than men.  And, it is particularly prevalent in menopausal women.

Thyroid problems seem to worsen at menopause because of changing hormone levels.  The symptoms of thyroid often mimic the symptoms of menopause.  Both, menopause and thyroid symptoms, cause irregular periods, hot flashes, exhaustion, sleep disturbances, mood swings, brain fog, weight gain and changes in libido.

Many women go undiagnosed because they assume their symptoms are just a result of menopause.  They have unresolved menopausal-like symptoms, even those taking estrogen, and they actually may be suffering from undiagnosed thyroid disease.  While symptoms such as fatigue, depression, mood swings, and sleep disturbances are frequently associated with menopause, they may also be signs of hypothyroidism, a condition in which the thyroid gland fails to produce enough thyroid hormone.  On the other hand, symptoms like palpitations, weight loss (oh yes!!) and thinning hair, bulging eyes and hand tremors may be due to hyperthyroidism and these left untreated can lead to unexpected deaths.

If left untreated, thyroid disease can increase women’s risk for heart disease and osteoporosis.  A simple blood test for thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) can let you know if your symptoms are related to thyroid disease.  Menopausal women should be routinely screened for thyroid disease as part of their annual examination.

The Thyroid Gland

The thyroid gland is one of the major endocrine (hormone secreting) glands of the body. It is a small butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of your neck. Unless enlarged, it can barely be felt or seen.  The thyroid gland secretes hormones that play a role in regulating metabolism and influences the heart, brain, kidney, and reproductive system, along with muscle strength and appetite.  Your metabolism controls the speed at which chemical processes occur in the body, which affects many functions such as heart rate, temperature, and stamina/energy.

In the U.S., between 7-10% of the population over the age of 55 are affected by a thyroid disorder, with Caucasians more commonly affected than African-Americans. Women are up to 10 times more likely to have a thyroid problems compared to men.

So, the thyroid is a gland that every woman should be aware of!

Underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) particularly affects women over 50. When you have an underactive thyroid, it does not produce enough hormone “thyroxine” which causes a slowing down of many processes in the body causing symptoms.

Hypothyroidism can be due to a variety of causes, including history of thyroid radiation, treatment for an overactive thyroid (Graves disease), removal of the thyroid gland, and certain medications, such as lithium, amiodarone and iodine. The most common cause of hypothyroidism is a medical condition called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.

Since women over the age of 50 are more commonly affected with hypothyroidism, it is important to understand the effects of menopause on the thyroid.

Symptoms for both hypothyroidism and menopause are similar and can include depressed mood, and decreased energy and memory. These similarities in symptoms may explain the delay in the diagnosis of hypothyroidism.

The Most Common Symptoms of Hypothyroidism include:

  • weakness
  • fatigue
  • cold intolerance
  • constipation
  • weight gain (unintentional)
  • depression
  • joint or muscle pain
  • thin, brittle fingernails
  • dry skin and course, brittle hair
  • paleness
  • mental slowness
  • fluid retention

Less common symptoms:

  • irregular or heavy periods
  • hoarse voice
  • enlargement of the thyroid gland
  • thinning of eyebrows

See your clinician if you have any of these symptoms. Your clinician will take blood tests to check your thyroid hormone levels in your body.  Once you are diagnosed with hypothyroidism, you’ll be treated with medication. Your clinician will take additional blood tests after beginning treatment to ensure your levels are stable. Thyroid medication needs may change with changes in your estrogen levels at menopause. Remember that good communication between you and your clinician, proper diagnosis, and control of hypothyroidism, may be the key to improving your quality of life at menopause and beyond!

Also you should communicate to your other healthcare providers that you are being treated with thyroid hormone.


This affects about 10 times more women than men and is likely to occur in women between the ages of 20 and 40.

Graves’ Disease is the most common type of hyperthyroidism. It is a condition when the body produces too much thyroid hormone and the cause is unknown. It tends to be a hereditary condition. Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disease which occurs when your body starts producing antibodies that stimulate the pituitary gland to produce TSH.

Symptoms of hyperthyroidism :

  • weight loss, despite increased appetite
  • rapid heart rate
  • irritability and anxiety
  • feeling hot
  • perspiring a lot
  • palpitations
  • nervousness
  • muscle weakness
  • thinning of hair
  • enlarged thyroid gland
  • diarrhea
  • tremors
  • bulging eyes

See your clinician if you have any of these symptoms. Your clinician will recommend blood tests to check your body’s levels of thyroxin (which are high in hyperthyroidism) and TSH (which are low).  Sometimes, benign thyroid nodules can also produce too much thyroxin.  You may need to see an endocrinologist to discuss hyperthyroidism and the appropriate treatment recommendation for you.  Your clinician will help you choose what is best for you.

Your Appointment With Your Clinician

You’ll likely start by seeing your clinician. In some cases, you may be referred to a doctor who specializes in the body’s hormone-secreting glands (endocrinologist).

Endocrinologists specialize in diagnosing and treating glands in the body and the hormones they produce. You can search websites of organizations such as the Hormone Health Network, the  Endocrine Society, or the American Thyroid Association, to find an endocrinologist in your area.

Be prepared for your visit to answer questions about your personal and family medical history, including:

  • Do you have any family members with thyroid disease?
  • When did you begin experiencing symptoms?
  • Have your symptoms been continuous or occasional?
  • How severe are your symptoms?
  • What, if anything, seems to improve your symptoms?
  • What, if anything, appears to worsen your symptoms?
  • Do you have any other health problems?
  • Are you taking any medications?  If so, what are they?

Preparing a list of questions will help you make the most of your time with your doctor. Some, basic questions to ask include:

  • What is likely causing my symptoms or condition?
  • Are there other possible causes for my symptoms or condition?
  • What tests do I need?
  • Is my condition likely temporary or chronic?
  • What is the best course of action?
  • What are the alternatives to the primary approach you’re suggesting?
  • I have these other health conditions. How can I best manage them together?
  • Are there restrictions I need to follow?
  • Are there brochures or other printed material I can take with me? What websites do you recommend?

Don’t hesitate to ask any other relevant questions you have.

Your endocrinologist will also perform a physical exam to check your thyroid gland.  You will also probably have to have blood tests, too. Other diagnostic tests might also be recommended such as an ultrasound, MRI, CT scan, or if necessary, a needle biopsy.  Your doctor will wait for the results of your testing to determine the cause of your thyroid condition before starting a treatment program.

You’re Not Alone…Some Famous Thyroid Patients

As you can see by this list of people who have suffered thyroid disease, they have lived productive, full and successful lives:

  • President George Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush
  • Rod Stewart (singer)
  • Tipper Gore (wife of VP Al Gore)
  • Oprah Winfrey
  • Sofia Vergera (actress)
  • Kim Catrall (actress)
  • Kim Alexis (actress)
  • Linda Ronstadt (singer)
  • Mary-Louise Parker (actress)
  • Jennifer Gray (actress)
  • Muhammad Ali (champion boxer)

For more information about thyroid diseases, contact the following organizations: