menopause or thyroid

How a Low Functioning Thyroid Can Mimic Menopause

Take a look at some of these common signs and symptoms associated with menopause:

  •      Mood swings
  •      Difficulty sleeping
  •      Fatigue
  •      Weight gain and/or difficulty losing weight
  •      Dry, itchy, and/or flaky skin
  •      Thinning hair on scalp
  •      “Brain fog” (difficulty concentrating and remembering)

Now take a look at these common signs and symptoms associated with a low functioning thyroid:

  •      Mood swings
  •      Difficulty sleeping
  •      Fatigue
  •      Weight gain and/or difficulty losing weight
  •      Dry, itchy, and/or flaky skin
  •      Thinning hair on scalp
  •      “Brain fog” (difficulty concentrating and remembering)

Notice anything? That’s right, these two very different conditions have many of the same signs and symptoms. No wonder many women believe they are entering menopause when in fact it’s their thyroid health that needs attention.

Why a Low Functioning Thyroid May Be Mistaken for Menopause

Both low functioning thyroid and menopause are caused by changing hormone levels. In hypothyroidism, the thyroid gland produces low levels of thyroid hormone. Menopause is caused by fluctuating and decreasing levels of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. While the hormones are very different, low thyroid can be mistaken for menopause (or, to be more accurate, perimenopause, the years leading up the final cessation of menstruation in a woman) for a number of reasons.

Many overlapping symptoms. See above!

Both happen in women. All women who reach middle age will go through menopause. Many women who reach middle age will experience low functioning thyroid, as women are 5-8 times more likely to have issues with thyroid health compared to men.

Both are common around the same age. Menopause can happen anywhere from 40-60, with the average age being 51. While a low functioning thyroid can occur at any age, it’s most common in middle aged women, with more than 1 in 10 women aged 35-65 experiencing underactive thyroid.

In short, because women in their 40s and 50s may be on the “lookout” for signs of menopause, they may be likely to attribute symptoms of hypothyroidism to menopause.

Low Thyroid or Menopause – Which Is It?

If the signs and symptoms listed at the top of this post are familiar to you, you may be wondering if you’re experiencing low thyroid or if you are entering perimenopause. Here’s how you can tell.

First, look for signs or symptoms that are associated with one condition but not the other. These are associated with menopause, but not low functioning thyroid:

  •      Vaginal dryness
  •      Change in breast shape and fullness
  •      Hot flashes
  •      Night sweats
  •      Chills

And these are associated with low functioning thyroid, but not menopause:

  •      Increased sensitivity to cold
  •      Thinning of outer eyebrows
  •      Hoarse voice
  •      Weak and/or aching muscles
  •      Swelling in the neck (goiter)

You can also look to your family history. Some types of thyroid health conditions run in families, like Hashimoto’s. Also, the age at which your mother went through menopause may be a decent predictor of when you’ll hit it, though lifestyle factors are also a big influence.

Finally, speak with your doctor and have your thyroid levels checked. Don’t forget there’s always the possibility that you are experiencing both at the same time.