Thyroid Disorders and Menopause: Understanding the Connection

Last updated 05.02.2024 | by Sabrina Johnson | 6 Minutes Read

This article has been reviewed and fact checked by Dr. Karen Pike, a senior physician administrator and board-certified emergency room doctor actively working in northern California. Read more at our medical disclaimer page.


Thyroid disorders affect several individuals globally each year. If we were to analyze gender-wise, women are about ten times more susceptible to thyroid disorders than their male counterparts. To be more specific, one in every eight women suffers from thyroid disease at some time of the other in life.

Now, if we link menopause and hypothyroidism, the interesting fact is that most of the symptoms often collide, making it challenging to comprehend if it is menopause or an overactive or underactive thyroid gland that is causing the menace.

An acquaintance once said, “I was going through regular hot flashes, I had trouble sleeping, and would experience palpitations quite often. I thought it was the deeds of menopause when I was 50. Little did I know that it was an underactive thyroid issue, causing all the menace.”

Is there a connection between menopause and thyroid  disorders? Does menopause cause thyroid disease? If you already have hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism, will it worsen with menopause?  That’s what I will discuss here. I will elaborate how your thyroid functioning impacts menopause, and vice-versa, and also the symptoms. Read on to know more.

Thyroid Functioning and Estrogen – The Connection

Many people are familiar with the reduction in estrogen levels during menopause. A 2011 study showed that estrogen may directly impact the human thyroid cells, resulting in thyroid disorder. However, the exact mechanism of how estrogen affects the thyroid cells has yet to be researched. More studies are needed to validate this.

How Do You Know If It is Menopause or a Thyroid Disorder?

As per medical experts, several women with menopause-like symptoms could be experiencing undiagnosed thyroid issues. Several symptoms like mood swings, fatigue, sleep issues, and depression are common in menopausal women. However, they are signs of hypothyroidism as well.  A survey showed that one in every four women who mentioned menopause-like symptoms to the doctor were even tested for thyroid conditions.

If you are of menopausal age and going through several symptoms, it is worthwhile to talk to your doctor about the same. If the symptoms persist and don’t get better even after altering your lifestyle or going for estrogen therapy, it is essential to get your TSH levels checked.

Can Thyroid Disorders Make Menopause Symptoms Worse?

Thyroid disorders don’t lead to early menopause. However, if the condition is untreated for long, chances are that it could impact your reproductive hormones and hamper your menstrual cycle. If you are transitioning into menopause, you might experience an aggravation of your symptoms, particularly if you have any underlying thyroid disease. Once your thyroid issues are addressed you will feel better.

Symptoms of Menopause, Hyperthyroidism, and Hypothyroidism

The term menopause isn’t unknown to us. It marks the time when you have had no periods for a year. Hypothyroidism happens when sufficient thyroid hormones isn’t made by the thyroid gland. On the other hand, hyperthyroidism is the reverse, marked by an overproduction of thyroid hormone by the thyroid gland. Both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism have overlapping symptoms, and the latter is more common than the former.

To understand how close the symptoms of menopause and thyroid (hyperthyroid, hypothyroid) are, take a look at the tabular presentation.

MenopauseHyperthyroidismHypothyroidism
Night sweatsWeight lossCold intolerance
Hot flashesHeat intoleranceDryness of skin
Increased urinationIrregular heartbeatConstipation
Sleep problemMuscle and joint weaknessSlow heart rate
Trouble in learning and concentrationNervousnessReduced memory
Increased fatigueTroubled sleepingIncreased and persistent fatigue
Vaginal drynessIrritabilityWeakened joints and muscles
Mood swingsIncreased sweatingFeelings of depression and sadness
A drop in your menstrualFrequent bowel movementsHoarseness of voice
Hair thinningEnlargement in neck (goiter)
Skin dryness

When Should You See a Doctor?

If you persistently experience menopause-like symptoms that don’t seem to get better, it is always important to seek a doctor’s consultation. You could have an underlying thyroid issue. The doctor will inquire about your symptoms, like their start, severity, and duration. Your doctor will also ask you if there is a history of endocrine disorders in your family. You will also be asked about your eating patterns and so on.

Upon examining you physically, your doctor will prescribe some blood tests, which include:

  • TSH—This test checks the concentration of TSH hormones in your blood. If your thyroid is less active, more TSH is produced. When the TSH is below normal, you have an overactive thyroid. If it is above normal, it indicates that you have an underactive thyroid.
  • T3 – This test is done to check if you have hypothyroidism or not. The t3 levels don’t decrease unless your condition is severe.
  • T4—Lower-than-normal T4 levels mean an underactive thyroid, whereas elevated T4 levels indicate an overactive thyroid.
  • The TSI test, or Thyroid Stimulating Immunoglobulin, is mainly used to determine Grave’s disease, which may result in hyperthyroidism or an overactive thyroid.

FAQs

Can hypothyroidism increase complications in menopause?

Thyroid disorders could make you susceptible to long-term menopausal complications. Of the several complications women experience during menopause, one of them is osteoporosis, marked by reduced bone strength.  As per research, hypothyroidism reduces bone density. Caucasian women with lessened body fat are at an increased risk of osteoporosis. Low thyroid levels increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases, which women are prone to in menopause.

How do you tell if you have thyroid disease or you have menopause?

Blood tests are the only way to determine if your symptoms are caused by elevated or reduced thyroid levels or menopause. TSH, T3, and T4 levels are used to confirm thyroid disease. If you are nearing menopausal age, the doctor may even ask to do tests like FSH and LH, both of which are raised when you have reached menopause.

How do you keep your thyroid levels in control?

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle in menopause is of immense importance. Living a healthy lifestyle is also mandatory to keep your thyroid levels in control. Eat a balanced diet, reduce sugary and processed foods, be on the move, check your stress levels, and sleep well. You must also monitor the amount of iodine you take—a balanced amount, neither more nor less.

Can Hormone Replacement Therapy worsen your thyroid disease?

HRT is considered one of the most effective ways to manage menopausal symptoms. When a woman’s thyroid function is normal, she won’t have issues adapting to HRT. Estrogen impacts thyroid functioning, so if women with hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism are undergoing HRT, they should consult the doctor. They may need to increase their thyroxine dose once they have started HRT.

Conclusion

The connection between menopause and thyroid disorders needs more research. Both conditions share symptoms, which makes it challenging to understand if it is menopause or a dysfunctional thyroid gland. Estrogen impacts thyroid levels, while thyroid hormones may make menopausal symptoms worse. It’s a two-way cycle. 

That’s why you should not ignore your symptoms. An untreated thyroid condition could trigger heart ailments, high cholesterol, and other severe health conditions. With proper and prompt treatment, your thyroid condition can be effectively treated.

Author

  • Sabrina Johnson

    Meet Sabrina Johnson, a compassionate author and a seasoned expert in Obstetrics and Gynecology. She is a driving force behind Simply Menopause, where her extensive medical knowledge and empathetic nature come together to empower women in their menopausal journey. Sabrina offers culturally sensitive guidance and support through her approachable writing, making her a trusted friend on the path to menopause wellness.