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Millions of women with menopausal-like symptoms may be suffering from undiagnosed thyroid disease. These non-specific symptoms consist of fatigue, depression, mood swings, weight gain, irregular menstrual periods, and sleep disturbances.
However, only one out of four of these women who have described these menopause-like symptoms with a physician are actually tested for thyroid disease.
It is common for women in their late 40s to their early 50s to expect the symptoms of menopause. This perimenopausal stage is the period when the signs and symptoms of menopause have not stabilized. Menopause is defined as the complete cessation of menstrual periods and loss of fertility. Before this occurs, a woman may undergo a long transition stage, called perimenopause, which may start as early as their mid-30s, although most women experiences changes in their mid to late 40s. This transition period may last for five to ten years, during which, one may undergo these signs and symptoms:
- Irregular menstrual periods
- Longer or shorter periods
- Heavy menstrual flow or spotting
- Absent periods
- Menstrual cramping
- Breast tenderness
- Premenstrual syndrome, or PMS, which consists of fatigue, irritability, food cravings, and depression
- Sleep problems
- Hot flushes alternating with intermittent coldness
- Weight gain
Symptoms related to these hormonal changes may come and go, some days being better than others are, especially during the long perimenopausal stage. For some women, undergoing these changes may be very challenging and they may feel that these are unnatural or perhaps related to some other health condition. They may seek medical consultation for vague symptoms, for which they may not get satisfactory treatment.
However, the diagnosis of menopause is usually made retrospectively, since it is established only a year after menses disappear.
Thyroid Symptoms Can Mimic Menopause
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located on the front of the neck but is normally not visible or felt. It produces several hormones, called thyroid hormones, which act throughout the body, influencing metabolism, growth, and development, and regulating body temperature.
Thyroid disorders can mimic the symptoms of perimenopause, and even physicians may be misled to treat these patients’ complaints as menopausal signs. A woman whose thyroid is functioning less than it normally should may experience irregular menstrual periods, depression, fatigue, depression, and weight gain just as a perimenopausal woman would undergo.
While there is a blood test that can help diagnose menopause - Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and estrogen (estradiol) test - a physician can order more blood tests to look into other conditions, including a thyroid screen, which may reveal a condition called hypothyroidism.