Thyroid and Menopause

goiterAlert!! Thyroid Disease and Menopause Share Similar Symptoms

Every once in a while a personal experience will alert us to a new issue affecting women going through menopause.

This time it concerns your thyroid and especially hypothyroidism, since this causes the most trouble in women of a certain age. (See creepy drawing – that’s a goiter, something one might get after years of untreated hypothyroid disease.)

Confusing Hypothyroidism with Menopause: A Personal Testimony

Thyroid problems (especially hypothyroidism) and menopause have similar symptoms and even your doctors can confuse these symptoms.

My mother has been exhausted for years. She napped constantly throughout the day and went to bed early every night. Her ankles were swollen, she felt weak, was depressed, had heart palpitations, and both high and low blood pressure. She kept passing out and couldn’t remember what she had said in her last sentence. She was taking the heart medication called Amiodarone.

Finally, she was sent to the emergency room where she received a pacemaker to control her racing heart. Although this helped keep her heart rate within bounds, her other symptoms continued.

Finally, she was tested for thyroid disease. Guess what? She had hypothyroidism.

She may not have needed a pacemaker, may not have had to go through surgery and could have avoided years of troubled health if she’d only been tested first.

What Does the Thyroid do?

Your thyroid is a small butterfly shaped gland located in your throat just above your collarbone and below your Adam’s apple. It wraps around the front and sides of your windpipe but you can’t feel it unless something is wrong. The hormones produced by your thyroid, and circulated via your bloodstream, affect almost every system in your body – your reproductive system, metabolism, body temperature and on and on.

A Few Facts Good to Know About Thyroid Disease

  • The older you get, the higher your chances are of developing thyroid problems, especially over the age of 50.
  • More women have thyroid problems than men.
  • Thyroid Disease is an autoimmune issue. Many more women experience autoimmune problems (like lupus) than men.
  • Many more women get hypothyroid than hyperthyroid.
  • Most women with hypothyroidism don’t know they have it until they are really sick.
  • Childbirth can cause hypothyroidism and is often mistaken as postpartum depression.
  • If you have had postpartum hypothyroidism, your chances are higher to turn into a permanent condition.
  • Many people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease actually have hypothyroid disease.
  • A thyroid test is not part of your regular blood screen at your yearly check-up. You have to ask for this test.

What Causes Hypothyroidism?

  • Your immune system attacks its own thyroid (Hashimoto’s Disease)
  • A compromised immune system (Celiac disease and Lupus for instance)
  • Hypothyroidism runs in the family
  • Pregnancy can cause hypothyroidism
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome
  • A viral infection or respiratory infection
  • Not enough iodine in your diet (though this is rare in developed countries with iodized salt)
  • Certain drugs: Amiodarone (a heart medication) for one
  • Pituitary problems or surgeries

Hypo- or hyper-?

A thyroid problem can come in two ways: hypo and hyper.  Many more women get hypothyroid than hyperthyroid.

If it’s hyperthyroid, you are over-producing the thyroid hormones. It’s pretty obvious — loss of weight, rapid heartbeat, sleep problems – you feel like you’ve had too much coffee all the time. But usually, this is not the big problem and can be easily remedied.

If you are hypo, you are under-producing those same hormones. Usually hypothyroidism sneaks up on you over a long period. You may not notice until you are really sick.

Symptoms of hypothyroidism (low thyroid)

  • Goiter – swelling of your thyroid gland (often one of the last symptoms to appear after living with an undiagnosed thyroid problem for a long period)
  • Fatigue no matter how much you sleep
  • Sleep problems
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Thyroid hot flashes and/or sensitivity to cold
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Loss of muscle strength, weakness
  • Weight gain
  • Heart problems
  • Reproduction problems
  • Irregular periods
  • Memory problems, brain fog, confusion
  • Dementia
  • Hair loss, thinning eyebrows
  • Dry skin and brittle nails
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Hoarse voice
  • Slow speech
  • Constipation
  • Numbness in fingers or hands
  • Headaches

Get Tested!

Many symptoms of a hypothyroid are similar to menopause symptoms. Yet according to the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE), only one in four women is tested for thyroid troubles.

TSH Test

It’s a simple blood test called the TSH test. It measures your thyroid stimulating hormone. If you have a hypothyroid, this hormone will be greatly elevated.

T3 and T4 Test

More detailed tests can be done to confirm inconclusive results from a TSH test. A T4 test checks the major hormone produced by your thyroid called levothyroxine. A T3 test measures triodothyronine, another hormone produced by your thyroid.

How to Keep a Healthy Immune System

Do eat:

Eat well. By eating well, you keep your immune system healthy. Fruits (especially berries), veggies (especially raw ones), increased fiber, whole grains, unsaturated fats. Eat food high in Vitamin B and iron. Only add iodine to your diet under direction of your doctor. 

Don’t eat:

Brocoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, spinach, turnips, soybeans, peanuts, pine nuts, millet, cassava or mustard greens. They all interfere with your thyroid function.

Avoid alcohol and tobacco.

Alternative Remedies for Hypo and Hyperthyroidism

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Take fish oil (we like this Krill Oil)

Take 500 mg of L-Tyrosine  3 X day (but not if you are taking prescription thyroid hormones)

If you have very early signs of a thyroid problem, acupuncture and herbs can help prevent it from getting worse and may even cure it.

Herbs that may help a low functioning thyroid are Coleus (careful: this can interact with heart medications ), Guggui (can interfere with birth control and other medications) and Bladderwrack, which contains iodine.

Always Consult Your Doctor Before Trying Alternatives

Once again, always consult your doctor before taking any herbs or trying any alternative remedy. Herbs can be powerful and interact badly with many medications. Please be careful.

Traditional Treatments for Hypothyroidism

A thyroid hormone replacement will be prescribed. It can take up to six weeks before you begin to feel like your old self again. But you will!

Once you start this treatment, you will have to continue for the rest of your life. But hey, it’s better than menopause symptoms for the rest of your life.

Read Up

There is a lot of controversy about outdated treatments for this condition so learn more about it. These books are recent and highly rated.

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