Understanding Thyroid DisordersThyroid hormones have a significant impact on your health throughout your life. They affect your metabolism and growth and can influence almost every cell in your body. Yet, an estimated 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease—and up to 60% of them may be unaware they have it.
Common Thyroid DiseasesHypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid produces too little thyroid hormone. Hyperthyroidism means it produces too much. Though not all causes of these thyroid disorders are fully understood, known causes include autoimmune diseases, cancerous or benign growths, certain medications, and radiation therapy to the head or neck.
Thyroid CancerThe American Cancer Society estimates that approximately 44,000 new cases of thyroid cancer will be diagnosed this year—about 75% of them in women. Though this is usually a very survivable type of cancer, early detection and treatment are vital. Typically, this treatment involves surgery or radioactive iodine treatment, which removes or inactivates the thyroid gland. The resulting hypothyroidism will require oral thyroid hormone supplementation for the remainder of the person’s lifetime. The chart below shows how thyroid disorders stack up against the transition to menopause in terms of symptoms, long-term concerns, and treatment.
|Hypothyroidism||Hyperthyroidism||Perimenopause & Menopause|
|Treatment||Thyroid Hormone Replacement||Medication or removal of the thyroid||Hormone Replacement Therapy|
How Can Menopause Affect the Thyroid?Good thyroid function is essential for healthy aging and longevity. Since thyroid disorders are more common in women and increase with age, many women will deal with them during their postmenopausal years. The overlap in symptoms and timing means that getting an accurate diagnosis may be challenging without comprehensive testing. But is there a relationship between menopause and the thyroid beyond timing and symptoms? Can menopause affect the thyroid? Do thyroid conditions affect menopause? The answer to all of these questions is yes. Thyroid hormones and ovarian hormones are closely interrelated throughout the reproductive years, and this connection continues into the menopause transition. A 2021 study of more than 2500 46-year-old women found that thyroid dysfunction was associated with a slightly advanced stage of menopause. There is also a correlation between thyroid disorders and premature or early menopause, and some evidence suggests that the severity of menopausal symptoms may be related to thyroid status. A 2020 study, for example, established a connection between thyroid dysfunction and nervousness in perimenopausal and postmenopausal women. Additionally, some of the treatments for menopause symptoms may affect thyroid function. These complex factors make endocrine monitoring especially important during and after the menopausal transition. While there is no consensus on screening perimenopausal or postmenopausal women for thyroid disorders, hormone testing allows you to better understand the source of your symptoms and ensure you are getting the right treatment.
Treatment ConsiderationsWith complex and interwoven symptoms, the treatment of thyroid disorders during and after the menopause transition, the treatment of thyroid disorders in perimenopausal and postmenopausal women must be undertaken with care. Some treatment considerations include:
- Women with hypothyroidism who are receiving hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may need more thyroid hormone due to increased levels of thyroid-binding globulin.
- Treatment for co-occurring thyroid disorders may improve some menopausal symptoms, potentially affecting your menopause treatment plan.
- Thyroid hormones may affect the severity of depression symptoms in menopausal women and the efficacy of antidepressant therapy.
- Thyroid hormones may be used to enhance depression treatment during times of hormonal change.