The thyroid is a small but important gland that is located in the neck, and its function is to produce hormones that are controlled by the pituitary gland. TSH, or Thyroid Stimulating Hormone, is sent out by the pituitary gland and results in the production of thyroxine by the thyroid. Thyroxine affects a number of functions in the human body, and this includes moods, heart rate, body heat, metabolism, body heat, skin and hair growth, memory, energy, and periods.
Thyroid problems and HRT
There are a number of links when it comes to thyroid problem and HRT. Firstly, one thing to note is that some of the symptoms of thyroid problems can be very similar to those of menopause. This means that women of menopausal age that develop thyroid problems may not even realize anything is amiss, putting the symptoms down to menopause. These conditions can often come about at around the same time in a woman’s life, and therefore if your doctor does not suggest it, you may also want to ask for a thyroid function test if you go to see your doctor for menopausal symptoms. As many as 26% of women are diagnosed with low thyroid function around the time of menopause.
Another thing to note is that thyroid problems can be a result of the onset of the menopause. Dr Christiane Northrup cites the work of John R Lee MD when she writes that “there appears to be a cause-and-effect relationship between hypothyroidism, in which there are inadequate levels of thyroid hormone, and estrogen dominance.”
Estrogen needs to be balanced by appropriate levels of the hormone progesterone. If it isn’t, and estrogen levels are too high, it can block the effect of the thyroid hormones. This means that even if your body is producing enough thyroid hormones, they are not able to be effective, and symptoms of hypothyroidism can be experienced.
The problem with this scenario is that normal thyroid levels generally show up in a medical test, so it is difficult to diagnose. If a woman is estrogen dominant and then given more estrogen with HRT, this can make the thyroid problems worse.
In order to reduce the risk of thyroid problems or to help ease thyroid problems HRT patients should ensure that they have their thyroid function tested regularly, as well as her other hormone levels. This means at the start of HRT treatment and also in the event that you change your HRT or change the dosage that you are taking. And given that depression is associated with thyroid problems, if this is not helped, or becomes worse after taking HRT, then the wider hormonal picture really needs to be taken into account.
There are a number of thyroid function tests that can be carried out in order to try and monitor thyroid problems or function. Thyroid problems can include hypothyroidism, where the thyroid in under-active, and hyperthyroidism, where the thyroid is overactive. The symptoms of each of these thyroid conditions can vary.
With hypothyroidism the symptoms can include depression, weight gain, fatigue, sluggishness, itchy and dry skin, dry or thinning hair, muscle cramps, constipation, feeling cold, joint aches, facial swelling, mood swings, snoring, dizziness, light sensitivity, problems with periods, exhaustion, and forgetfulness.
The symptoms of an overactive thyroid, or hyperthyroidism, include irritability, nervousness, brittle hair and thinning skin, weakness in the upper arms and thighs, excessive perspiration, increased bowel movement, increased heart rate, shaking hands, lighter periods, weight loss, and fewer periods.
In order to try and avoid thyroid problems HRT patients should seek advice from their doctor with regards to regular testing whilst on HRT. And those that feel that they are experiencing the onset of the menopause should also speak to their doctor about thyroid testing to ensure that the symptoms are not getting confused and their thyroid problem does not go undetected.