You’re struggling with hot flashes, mood swings, restless nights/night sweats and it feels like everything about your body is changing. You may not even recognize yourself anymore.
But this is normal, you’re experiencing peri-menopause or even moved into menopause and you’ve heard the horror stores. There’s nothing to fear…except you do.
My Menopause Experience
When I went through menopause it was forced upon me all at once due to a full hysterectomy and then my body rejected hormone replacement therapy (HRT). My body was already under a lot of stress from the underlying causes of why I needed the full hysterectomy in the first place. So, when my body rejected HRT, and I went cold-turkey, it was like a bus hitting a brick wall.
My hair changed, my skin changed, and even my body shape changed. One moment I was clear-headed making tough decisions and the next, I couldn’t make sense of anything. I didn’t know myself, and I didn’t feel like I could trust myself.
My situation was not the normal progression. Normally, my body would begin the process of producing less and less estrogen and progesterone as I became less fertile. And over time, everything would have settled.
In my case, I had a very rough time at it at first. And HRT made it worse, but I finally settled into my own rhythm. Once I got off HRT, I’m not suggesting that you do – this is just my experience, my body adjusted quite quickly. That may have to do with the lack of fluctuations in hormone levels which is common during peri-menopause and menopause.
Asking The Right Question
For some, peri-menopause and menopause isn’t very difficult. They may barely register fluctuations. After all, if all was in harmony with you and you didn’t need estrogen or progesterone for fertility, then why do you feel so bad as their levels diminish?
This is a great question, and one more should ask.
Having a rough go at it is not normal albeit, common.
Instead of thinking that a rough menopause is normal, start seeking possible causes. If you don’t, you will continue to struggle – possibly needlessly.
And one possible reason why you’re struggling could be your thyroid.
Possible Thyroid Connection
According to the American Thyroid Association (ATA), more than 12 percent of the U.S. population will develop a thyroid condition during their lifetime.
- An estimated 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease.
- Up to 60 percent of those with thyroid disease are unaware of their condition.
- Women are five to eight times more likely than men to have thyroid problems.
- One woman in eight will develop a thyroid disorder during her lifetime.
- Undiagnosed thyroid disease may put patients at risk for certain serious conditions, such as cardiovascular diseases, osteoporosis and infertility.
And thyroid conditions affect women who are in peri-menopause and menopause the most often.
Additionally, this makes it harder to recognize a thyroid condition. Many of the symptoms for both peri-menopause/menopause and thyroid conditions overlap.
Thyroid conditions can affect your menstrual cycles and it’s common to have either heavier or more frequent periods if you have Hypothyroidism. Hyperthyroidism can trigger the reverse, lighter and less frequent periods.
When enter into peri-menopause, their cycles become less predictable. They can be heavier, lighter, fewer, spotting in-between periods and cramping with or without bleeding. If you’re expecting less predictable menstrual cycles, it’s difficult to recognize the pattern that may indicate an issue with your thyroid.
When your thyroid is deficient, your metabolism slows, and you can feel disinterested and even depressed. When your thyroid is hyper, you can feel anxious and restless. Common symptoms associated with peri-menopause include depression, anxiety, restlessness, and irritability. You can swing from one mood to another in a moment, and it’s difficult to manage.
Since your thyroid regulates your metabolism, it’s easy to understand that if your metabolism is sluggish, you will have less energy and feel sluggish. In reverse, if you have a hyper metabolism due to a hyperthyroid, you will have a more difficult time sleeping.
You can feel restless, need to wake up more often, and struggle with insomnia.
Women going through peri-menopause usually start to experience a more difficult time falling asleep and staying asleep. Often, they need to wake up to use the restroom and feel uncomfortable, maybe hot and sweaty.
And it’s common to hear women say they don’t feel rested when they wake up, even if they think they slept through the night.
Fatigue and Brain Fog
All manner of thyroid conditions can make it difficult to concentrate and focus. And whether you have hyperthyroidism which speeds up your metabolism and causes you to feel anxious and jumpy or hypothyroidism which depresses your metabolism and slows you down, you will have less energy over all.
In the case of peri-menopause and menopause, it’s difficult to concentrate when you have less patience, are more irritable and your mood swings are wild. And the stress that comes from it will pull from your resources to include your energy.
Additionally, sleep deprivation from either a thyroid condition or going through peri-menopause/menopause will also influence your energy levels and cognitive function.
When women start to put on weight and have a hard time taking it off they usually think thyroid right off the bat. When your thyroid is sluggish, you have hypothyroidism, weight is easy to put on and difficult to take off.
Remember when I mentioned that my body shape changed? There was a reason for that. Women going through peri-menopause often see more weight form around their waist, hips and on their thighs. To make it worse, muscle mass is often lost as well.
The good news is, redistribution of weight generally slows down and stops when women move through menopause.
Hair and Skin Changes
Two of the most feared symptoms my community worries about is hair loss and saggy skin.
Several years ago, my hair changed dramatically. It went from chronically straight to ringlet curly and started coming out like crazy. Since I had long hair at the time, I looked like a Springer Spaniel overnight and had to cut my hair short. For the first time in my life, I had to learn how to handle curly hair. (My experiments with perms never worked out.)
What caused my hair to radically change overnight? Stress and hormones. I had undergone an extremely stressful period about 3 months prior, and it wreaked havoc on my hormones.
Hormonal changes in general can cause thinning hair and receding hairlines. When you are going through peri-menopause and menopause, your hormones are in a state of flux. So, it stands to reason that hair loss occurs during this time.
This also holds true when you have either hyper- or hypothyroidism. Both conditions tend to lead to hair loss as well.
Skin health can also be affected by hypothyroidism. Due to raised plaques or nodules in your skin as a result of lower thyroid reaching the skin cells, your skin can become itchy and dry.
As for saggy skin, there is a connection between hormones and sugar that affects the elastin and collagen in your skin that can make your skin appear saggy. To learn more about this connection, read the post on How Hormone Balance and Blood Sugar Regulation Affect Aging Skin.
You’re probably aware that women often experience hot flashes and night sweats during peri-menopause and menopause, as well as a general feeling of being too hot all the time and sweating profusely.
And then as these symptoms ease up, it’s common for women to feel colder and have a harder time staying warm. Many blame thin skin, but it could be a slower metabolism – or a combination of both.
In the case of thyroid disease, hypothyroidism causes a person’s metabolism to slow down making it hard to stay warm. While hyperthyroidism speeds up the metabolism making you feel uncomfortably hot.
Low Sex Drive
A low sex drive is associated with hypothyroidism, peri-menopause and menopause. Changes in your hormone levels often interfere with sex drive.
This may improve with hormone replacement therapy, but there are natural ways to improve your sex drive as well. Try natural supplements such as Maca and Korean Red Ginseng.
Both a decline in estrogen and thyroid can increase vaginal dryness and thin vaginal tissue making it more uncomfortable for sex. In addition to being painful, vaginal dryness can lead to complications if not addressed, such as cuts and tears which can lead to infections and being more susceptible to sexually transmitted disease.
Thyroid and Estrogen Dominance
As you move through menopause or peri-menopause, progesterone production decreases along with estrogen, but sometimes they are not decreasing at the same rate. If progesterone levels drops too low an imbalance between the two hormones can occur resulting in estrogen dominance. (Check out the article HRT Not Working? Maybe You're Experiencing Estrogen Dominance)
Estrogen dominance is associated with more intense menopausal symptoms, and furthermore, elevated estrogen levels can interfere with your thyroid function.
A study has indicated that estrogen may negatively affect thyroid receptor sites, reducing the thyroid’s ability to connect with cells. Because of this connection between estrogen and thyroid, it is common for peri-menopausal and menopausal women to suffer some degree of thyroid dysfunction.
Not only can decreased, or even borderline healthy, levels of thyroid hormone increase in menopausal symptoms, it can cause further damage. Recent studies have shown that thyroid dysfunction may contribute to the long-term effects of menopause, specifically at greater risk of osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease.
These two risks are the leading reason why HRT is recommended in addition to lessening symptoms.
What You Can Do
First, don’t shrug off symptoms as being normal. I can’t say this enough, just because symptoms are common, it doesn’t make them normal.
Second, start tracking your symptoms and determine if you have swings or the consistent patterns. For instance, are you hot one moment and then cold the next or are you always hot? Are you sleepy all the time or are you restless while trying to sleep?
Consistencies may be more associated with a thyroid condition, while swings may be more associated with peri-menopause and menopause.
Third, go back to basics. Watch what you eat, get plenty of rest and take routine breaks, practice stress relieving techniques, move your body in fun ways – often, and practice your stress relieving super power. (See the post on Your Superpower For Relieving Stress)
Fourth, get a professional opinion and have testing done to check your overall hormone health. Testing should include a broad-spectrum hormone panel to include 4 – 6 cortisol points and a complete thyroid panel.
At a minimum, your thyroid panel should include the following:
The total amount of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) in your blood is an indicator of whether or not your thyroid gland is active. If it’s sluggish there will be more TSH, therefore, a high level of TSH may indicate hypothyroidism if you’re also producing low amounts of T3 and T4.
In reverse, a below-normal level of TSH may indicate hyperthyroidism, or an overactive thyroid.
2. T4 or Free T4
Thyroxine (T4) is a hormone that allows the body to control the more active T3 hormone. This hormone is either inactive and bound to proteins, or active and unbound, and you can test for total T4 or Free T4. Because free T4 is what’s available to your body for use, a free T4 test is often preferred over a total T4 test.
Free T4 is unbound T4, readily available for use in the body (it is unbound to proteins), and is a good measure of hormonal status if viewed with other tests. High can mean hyper, low can mean hypo, but it is common to have normal T4 and still have significant thyroid hormone imbalance. That’s why you want to compare it with other thyroid hormones.
Triiodothyronine (T3) is the active thyroid hormone and is manufactured largely by the liver from T4 (which is manufactured by the thyroid). Free T3 is T3 that is readily available for use in the body (it is unbound by other things). High Free T3 can signify Hashimoto's, Hyperthyroidism or Grave's Disease. Low T3, or even mid-range with hypo symptoms, can signify Hypothyroidism. In both cases, other tests are needed along with this result to discern exactly what is happening.
4. Reverse T3
Its use is controversial, and many doctors are not familiar with it, but research shows the Reverse T3 (RT3) test is highly informative. Reverse T3 is “anti-thyroid”, a metabolite of T4, it keeps the body from metabolizing too much thyroid hormone. This means we don't want an excess of it floating around if there is not enough of the active T3 in the body, getting to where it is supposed to go. Generally speaking, RT3 inversely correlates to metabolism, meaning, the higher the RT3, the lower the metabolism. The lower the RT3, the higher the metabolism.
The Bottom Line
No hormone works in isolation and that includes estrogen and progesterone. If you are struggling with peri-menopause or menopause, especially if you are on hormone therapy, you want to dig deeper and look for the root cause.
It may or may not be related to your thyroid, but it’s worth looking into. The similarities and overlaps between symptoms of thyroid dysfunction and menopause can be confusing. So, don’t rule out thyroid dysfunction before you investigate further.
If you want support or advice on what tests to take and how to address your hormone health, you can contact my office.
To contact me for a FREE Hormone Troubleshooting Session, click on the button below and fill out the health questionnaire. Once you click Submit, you can schedule an appointment that is convenient for you.
To reduce the risks associated with chronic stress so you can have more energy, feel more confident and be more like yourself, you want to make yourself a priority and focus on rest and improving your environments. But there’s no need to try and do this all at once. Small and simple steps can lead to big changes.
Your partner in health,
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