Thyroid Awareness Month: Thyroid Problems at Menopause

By: Red Hot Mamas

Published: January 15, 2013

Many women know the expression, “You’re only as happy as your least happy child.” Women also should know that they are only as happy as their thyroid is! The thyroid gland, which sits in the front of our necks, right in front of our windpipe (trachea), helps control all the metabolic activity in our bodies. Thyroid problems are much more common in women than in men, and do increase with age, so that it is quite appropriate to devote a column of The Menopause Minute to thyroid issues in January, “Thyroid awareness month.”

Thyroid cancer has been increasingly diagnosed in this country over the last 20 years. Most physicians think this is because it is increasingly diagnosed, as thyroid biopsies are much more commonly done these days. The good news is that it is almost always curable: so if you are diagnosed, don’t panic. Go see a good medical endocrinologist (who are the specialists that deal with thyroid disorders) who will get you hooked up with a good thyroid surgeon, and they will work together to get you appropriately cured, and monitored.

Much more common is thyroid dysfunction: either under or overactivity of the gland itself. The symptoms of an overactive thyroid actually mimic menopausal symptoms-hot flashes, night sweats, palpitations-occasionally diagnosis can be tricky. Much more prevalent is underactivity of the thyroid. Symptoms for this can be feeling cold, sluggish, hair changes-loss or coarseness: constipation, and weight gain. Metabolically, thyroid underactivity can lead to worsening lipid levels, raising your cholesterol.

The good news is that in general, thyroid activity abnormalities can be easily diagnosed by a simple blood test. We also use that blood test to monitor response to the medication that one takes to correct the abnormality.

Many women unfortunately mistakenly think that taking thyroid replacement therapy will make you lose weight. That only works if you are suffering from a truly underactive thyroid. If a woman with normal thyroid function takes extra thyroid, she will not lose weight-all she’ll do is feel bad, and also put herself at increased risk of bone loss. But if you do have an underactive thyroid, do take the replacement therapy: you’ll feel much better, and you’ll get healthier.

Both primary care and ob-gyn physicians and nurse practitioners can help you diagnose thyroid disorders; so if you think something might be amiss, do call your health care provider: this is one disorder that you definitely want to take care of, if this organ system is misbehaving: it’s really easy to take care of the problems, and you truly will notice a difference once it has been attended to. Happy thyroid awareness month!

Mary Jane Minkin, MDAbout the Author: Mary Jane Minkin, MD is clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Yale University School of Medicine and has a private practice in New Haven, Connecticut. She is widely known in the field of gynecology and is interviewed often in print and broadcast media; she has even appeared on a billboard in Times Square, along with other women of note representing the “new face of menopause.” She is also a HUGE Mets fan.

More information:
Is it Menopause or Your Thyroid?