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Thyroid and menopause: low thyroid symptoms mimic menopausal symptoms and vice versa. How to discover the difference.
Do you know that there are some menopause symptoms that are the same as low thyroid symptoms? Fatigue, fuzzy thinking, depression, weight gain, anxiety, and irregular periods could be symptoms of low thyroid....or symptoms of menopause or peri menopause....or both!
If you are already diagnosed with low thyroid when you enter peri menopause and menopause, you may need to adjust your treatment. (see My Personal Experience...below)
If you are having difficult peri menopause or menopause symptoms, and/or treating them is not helping enough, it's time to suspect low thyroid.
Why thyroid and menopause?
Most problems with your thyroid at menopause are related to hypothyroid, or low thyroid, conditions. Thyroid function declines with age no matter how healthy you are. If you have estrogen dominance (high estrogen levels along with low progesterone levels), this will have a negative effect on your thyroid. This is why some women using bioidentical progesterone cream find it helps their thyroid function.
Other issues that can impact thyroid function include insulin resistance and adrenal fatigue. If you have insulin resistance (and many people do without knowing it), your thyroid may not work as well. And if your adrenal glands are weak enough, due to long-term stress or a lack of adequate dietary and lifestyle support, you will need to treat that condition first before you can benefit from certain types of thyroid medication.
If you have untreated or under-treated low thyroid (very common at menopause), your menopause symptoms may be much worse, and treating them with hormones, bioidentical or otherwise, will not solve the problem. The difficulty of going through peri menopause and menopause with under-treated thyroid cannot be overstated.
My Personal Experience with Low Thyroid and Menopause Symptoms
I was diagnosed with autoimmune low thyroid at 41. I began traditional treatment, with levothyroxine (a form of T4) at that time. When I turned 48 I started having peri menopausal symptoms (migraines for the first time, insomnia, mood swings). Since I had just left my husband, I thought it was related to that. When we began divorce proceedings, a couple of years later, I had a very intense 48 hour period of feeling like I couldn't get enough air to breathe. I was taking deep breaths every 20-30 seconds with no relief. When I went to see my doctor, he started the standard protocol for that symptom, which included testing for heart failure, lung cancer, COPD and more. The funny thing is, my blood showed that it had enough oxygen, even though it didn't feel that way. Long story short, it turned out I needed to increase my levothyroxine. I discovered this on my own, through patient forums on the internet. My doc did not suspect it at all, and in fact almost did not test me for it.
So I got through peri menopause with my thyroid meds increased, but after a few years, I developed new symptoms that wouldn't go away with various herbal treatments, dietary changes, and progesterone cream. I felt like I was aging faster and faster; felt like I was 65 instead of 55. I started reading up on thyroid issues (again), and found out that I probably needed more than just levothyroxine, or T4. I finally found a doctor, and I am taking T3 three times a day, along with my T4 dose in the morning. He also prescribed bioidentical estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. I am feeling consistently better, and it is amazing after so many years of struggle and inconsistent results.
If you have tried many treatments without success, please get your thyroid checked. Do not expect your regular doctor to be able to do this well, even though he or she will say they can. I have had many good doctors try to treat me with minimal success. You need an expert – someone who understands that the TSH test is not sufficient to diagnose you. You will need other tests. If you are hypothyroid, then you need a doctor who will treat your symptoms ahead of your tests. The tests mean nothing if you aren't feeling better.
Thyroid and Menopause: Getting tested, finding a doctor
Do not expect your primary doctor to understand how to diagnose and treat low thyroid. I have had five doctors since I was diagnosed. Three of them did not test for antibodies, even though I have the autoimmune type of disease. Two of these thought that if my TSH was in range, then my symptoms were not thyroid-related. All you have to do is check out one or two websites, or books on low thyroid, to find out this is not true. There are thousands of people with their TSH in range, with or without medication (T4), and they still have many symptoms of low thyroid. This is because T4 is only part of what you need for a fully functioning thyroid, and the TSH test is somewhat meaningless as an indicator of thyroid health. So what can you do?
Start with taking your temperature
We have Dr. Broda Barnes to thank for this information. He was one of the first people to suspect the TSH to be inadequate for diagnosing low thyroid. Taking your basal temperature under your arm can give you information about thyroid function. To get instructions on how to take your temperature for thyroid health, see this article at About.com's thyroid site. This site may also help you find a good doctor. It is where I found mine.
If in fact you have low thyroid and menopause, it may be difficult to get diagnosed and treated adequately, especially when you are feeling so poorly, but it is well worth the effort. The right treatment can make you feel like a new woman! Don't wait, take action now. Get a thermometer and start taking your temperature. Visit the About.com thyroid site to find doctors in your area. Even if there aren't any listed for your area, you can still get tested on your own and then find a doctor who will listen to you. Fortunately, the problems with testing and treatment are much more widely known today that when I was first diagnosed. The information is out there for you, and you can get better.