You’re experiencing fatigue, forgetfulness, mood swings and weight gain. You think – because you’re in the right age group – that these are symptoms of perimenopause. You may want to rethink that somewhat logical conclusion; it could be your thyroid.
The thyroid is a small but powerful gland that manufactures thyroid hormones which regulate metabolism, affecting nearly every cell, tissue and organ in the body. When this gland becomes out of whack, which it does in roughly one in eight women, the problem is classified in two ways, hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) or hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), the North American Menopause Society said.
Hypothyroidism is when the thyroid doesn’t produce enough of the hormones to keep the body functioning properly. Left untreated, it can lead to high cholesterol, osteoporosis, heart disease and depression.
Hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid overproduces its hormones. The most common signs of hyperthyroidism are unexplained weight loss, goiter and bulging eyes.
In either case, some of the symptoms of a thyroid condition mimic those of the menopause transition, making it tricky to distinguish the two, endocrinologist Mary Vouyiouklis Kellis, said on the Cleveland Clinic website.
Thyroid disorders are more common among women, Kellis said, noting that women with a family history of thyroid problems or autoimmune issues are at higher risk.
“Thyroid disorders are often diagnosed around the time of menopause, or between the ages of 45 and 55,” she said. “Many women pass off their thyroid issues for menopause because the symptoms are similar and it seems like they’re at the right age.”
More than 20 million Americans have a thyroid disorder, Kellis said, making thyroid problems more common than asthma and heart disease. Because many of the signs that your thyroid may be out of balance are so common, Kellis said a simple blood test can help diagnose or rule out a thyroid disorder – and help you and your healthcare provider plot an appropriate course of treatment.
Just as there can be concerns about discerning whether a symptom is due to perimenopause or your thyroid, so too the march toward menopause can affect your bowels, possibly manifesting as irritable bowel syndrome.
When a person’s large intestine doesn’t function as it should, and nothing indicates that a disease is behind the problem, it’s considered to be irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a chronic problem of the large intestine.
About 10 percent to 15 percent of American adults have IBS, which affects nearly twice as many women as men, Redhotmama.org says. But IBS is rarely diagnosed – only 5 percent to 7 percent of adults have received an IBS diagnosis.
Research on an IBS-menopause link have yielded mixed results. However, there appears to be some indication that IBS symptoms increase during perimenopause, Verywellhealth.com reported.
One report identified the ages of 40-49 as the peak time when these increased symptoms occur. This increase in symptoms may be a result of estrogen and progesterone leveling off, similar to the way women experience an increase in IBS symptoms during the days leading up to their menstrual periods.
Population studies indicate the prevalence of IBS symptoms lessens for women after the age of 40 or 45 – a decrease not noted in men, Verywellhealth reported, commenting on the possibility that the leveling off of estrogen and progesterone in post-menopausal women has a positive effect on IBS symptoms.
Many women, with and without IBS, report digestive issues during the perimenopausal phase, including changes in the frequency of bowel movements, increased bloating, and increased symptoms of abdominal pain and discomfort.
Verywellhealth also noted that while estrogen loss during menopause increases the risk of osteoporosis, having IBS is a risk factor for osteoporosis also. Scientists are working to determine why a person IBS is at increased risk of osteoporosis.
What exactly causes IBS is unknown, Redhotmamas said. What is known is that certain things can trigger IBS symptoms in people who already have it – things such as food sensitivities or allergies, stress, stomach or intestinal infections, a glitch in how your brain and gut work together to control gastrointestinal tract functions, or problems with how food moves through the colon.
While IBS has no cure, it can be managed effectively. Changing your diet typically is a key part of controlling IBS. Exercise also plays an important role, as does managing stress levels. Your healthcare provider also may prescribe drugs to help alleviate the symptoms of IBS.