You wake up during the night covered in sweat, your heart beating rapidly. Or perhaps you’ve been experiencing mood swings and depression. If you’re a woman about age 50 and up you could probably chalk it up to menopause. But there's a chance your symptoms may actually be the result of a thyroid problem.
According to the American Thyroid Association, women are five to eight times more likely than men to be diagnosed with a thyroid condition; one in eight women will be diagnosed in her lifetime.
The thyroid is a small gland in the front side of the neck above your collarbone. It produces hormones that regulate metabolism.
Unlike many other illnesses, the symptoms of a thyroid condition can mimic those of menopause, making it difficult to diagnose. Thyroid conditions take many forms, most commonly hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) and hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid). Here’s what to know about each.
Too many hormones—or not enough
Overproduction of thyroid hormones can lead to hyperthyroidism. Besides night sweats and a rapid heartbeat, other symptoms of hyperthyroidism include nervousness and irritability, muscle weakness, thinning of hair, unexplained weight loss, and sleep disturbances.
Hypothyroidism, on the other hand, occurs when the thyroid is not producing enough thyroid hormone. Besides mood swings and depression, other symptoms include unexplained weight gain, dry skin, extreme fatigue, and frequently feeling cold.
But in either case, if you are in the menopausal age range, the chances are more likely that you are experiencing the normal symptoms of menopause—not a thyroid condition.
Therefore, routine testing for a thyroid condition is not recommended for all women, but only for those who have thyroid risk factors, such as a family history, an autoimmune disease, or a personal history of thyroid problems.
When to consider testing
If you are not responding to the standard treatments for bothersome menopause symptoms (including hormone therapy), talk to your doctor about getting your thyroid levels tested.
“If symptoms are persisting it can be worthwhile,” says JoAnn V. Pinkerton, M.D., professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Virginia Health System and executive director of the North American Menopause Society.
Both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism can be diagnosed with blood tests.
Hypothyroidism can be corrected by taking thyroid hormone daily. Hyperthyroidism can be treated with medication or more aggressively with radioactive iodine treatment or surgical removal of the gland.