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Is It Menopause or a Thyroid Problem?

Meet your thyroid gland. It's a small, bow-tie shaped organ, located in the front of the neck above your collarbone. Its main job is to manufacture the thyroid hormones that regulate metabolism. These powerful hormones affect nearly every cell, tissue, and organ in the body. When this touchy gland becomes imbalanced, which it does in approximately one in eight women, the problem is classified in two ways, hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism.

Hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid) occurs when the thyroid no longer produces enough of the hormones to keep the body functioning properly. If untreated, it can lead to high cholesterol, osteoporosis,  heart disease, and depression. Some symptoms of hypothyroidism are similar to symptoms reported during the menopause transition. These include fatigue, forgetfulness, mood swings, weight gain, irregular menstrual cycles, and cold intolerance.

Hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid) occurs when the thyroid produces too much of its hormones. Some symptoms of hyperthyroidism can also mimic those of the menopause transition, including hot flashes, heat intolerance, palpitations (short episodes of rapid heartbeat), tachycardia (persistent rapid heartbeat), and insomnia. The most common signs of hyperthyroidism are unplanned weight loss, goiter (an enlarged thyroid gland) and exophthalmos (bulging eyes).

Hypothyroidism is usually treated with prescription oral thyroid hormone medication to replenish the supply. Hyperthyroidism treatment options include antithyroid drugs, radioactive thyroid therapy, or thyroid surgery.

It's important to distinguish menopause symptoms from thyroid symptoms. Thyroid disorders are common in women and can be diagnosed with a simple blood test called thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). If you are having symptoms of hyper- or hypothyroidism, you should be screened with a TSH test.

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