“I can’t believe I’ve hit menopause already.” That was what Carla said when she first came to my clinic. Even though she knew that women go through menopause at different times– and even though I assured her this could actually mean entering a beautiful new stage of her life– something just felt “off”.
All of her symptoms lined up with perimenopause: mood swings, weight gain, declining libido, hair loss. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my time working with women, it’s the importance of listening to one’s own body and intuition. So Carla and I dug a little deeper.
It turns out the symptoms she was experiencing– the same ones that can signal perimenopause, early or not– were actually symptoms of hypothyroidism.
What many people don’t know is that thyroid dysfunction can both trigger and mirror other kinds of hormonal imbalances, including those we see when a woman enters perimenopause. Hormonal shifts, in turn, can affect your thyroid.
Let’s learn more about the often unexplained thyroid and menopause connection, and what it might mean for you.
The Thyroid and Menopause Connection
I see it so often: if a woman is in her 40s-50s, many physicians simply assume perimenopause. Even if they do run thyroid tests, they often only use basic TSH testing that fails to identify thyroid dysfunction in many women.
This is a big oversight, because there are actually several important connections between your thyroid and the hormones that are involved in menopause.
In the early stages of perimenopause, progesterone levels can drop and that can result in (relatively, because it’s all about balance!) higher estrogen levels. If excess estrogen isn’t offset by progesterone, it can impact the thyroid hormone production, causing or contributing to hypothyroidism.
Similarly, when your thyroid is not functioning properly, it can lead to lower progesterone levels, creating the same imbalance that occurs during perimenopause.
Which came first: the chicken or the egg; the thyroid or the hormonal imbalance? The reality is that the only way to know for sure what is going on is to undergo testing.
Testing for Thyroid Function
To assess your thyroid function, we recommend a full thyroid workup including all of the following tests:
- Free T3 and Free T4
- Reverse T3
- Total T3
- Micronutrient analysis (intracellular)
- Basal Body Temperature
If your thyroid is not functioning properly, it is important to provide it the nutrition and lifestyle support it requires for optimal function. A stressed or overworked thyroid will require additional nutritional support to repair and rebalance beyond what can typically be found in today’s food supply.
You may need added support, and our Thyroid Program is designed to provide you with everything you need to ensure good thyroid health.
Are Your Menopause Symptoms Actually Thyroid Symptoms?
So, we’ve learned that hormonal changes can disrupt thyroid function, and vice versa. The other important thing I want to share with you is that sometimes thyroid problems actually masquerade as menopause (even when a woman hasn’t actually reached that stage).
These are just a few of the symptoms that are common between hypothyroidism (low thyroid hormone production) and perimenopause:
- Mood swings
- Irregular heartbeat
- Weight gain
- Hair loss or thinning hair
- Fuzzy thinking or memory challenges
- Low libido
No wonder so many of my patients, like Carla, are confused! Because there are so many shared symptoms between hypothyroidism and menopause, I definitely recommend looking into the thyroid before jumping to any conclusions. The good news is that thyroid testing is quite simple, and treatment is manageable. It’s all about identifying the real cause!
Identifying Hypothyroidism During and After Menopause
Women who are perimenopausal or postmenopausal also have an increased risk of developing hypothyroidism (again, because of the relationship between the thyroid, estrogen, and other hormones).
This is so important to keep in mind, because I see many women suffer for way longer than they need to with symptoms like fatigue, insomnia, and fuzzy thinking. They may assume it’s just a natural part of menopause, when in fact, the issue is that they’ve slipped into hypothyroidism amidst all of their other hormonal changes.
My simple suggestion is this: if you’re perimenopausal or postmenopausal and are experiencing symptoms like the ones listed above, get your thyroid tested!
There are a few other risk factors for hypothyroidism to keep in mind when you’re looking for answers.
To begin with, women are at a higher risk than men (it’s estimated that around one in eight women will experience thyroid symptoms at some point in their lives), and the risk increases with age.
Other risk factors for low thyroid hormone levels include:
- Family history of thyroid disease
- Diagnosis of an autoimmune condition
- History of thyroid surgery
Final Thoughts on the Thyroid and Menopause Connection
If you’re experiencing symptoms like fatigue, thinning hair, weight gain, or memory loss, it’s possible that the culprit is hypothyroidism, not menopause. This was the case for my patient, Carla– who, by the way, is feeling a thousand times better now that she’s started treating her thyroid issue!
Something to always keep in mind too, is that the adrenals can undermine the functioning of the thyroid gland and increase the symptoms of perimenopause. So adrenal testing may be in order here too.
Keep in mind that your thyroid may be to blame whether you’re premenopausal, perimenopausal, or postmenopausal. The risk of hypothyroidism does increase as women age, and as other hormonal changes occur during menopause. In other words, even if you are going through menopause, low thyroid hormone production may be to blame for some of your symptoms.
On the other hand, if your thyroid is healthy, then your symptoms are probably a result of the hormonal imbalances that can occur as we approach menopause.
In order to restore and rebalance your hormones, you may need nutritional and lifestyle support such what we offer in our Menopause Program.
I have had great success helping to restore optimal thyroid health and rebalance hormones in patients with my proven programs. Thousands of women have experienced symptom relief, hormonal balance and renewed thyroid health with my products and support.
Reviewed by Dr. Mark Menolascino, MD