When I was in my third trimester with my son, I came down with a stomach bug. I lost half a stone in two days. I recovered, and didn’t think anything of it. However, a few months later, after he was born, I fell ill again. But this time I felt tingly all over and just didn’t feel right. I went and saw my doctor, who sent me for blood tests. At the time, they discovered my thyroid was borderline low but my B12 levels were very low. They chalked it up to my illness in my third trimester.
Over time, I still never fully recovered. In fact, a few years later, whilst on holiday, I could feel my heart skipping beats. If you’ve ever had that happen to you, then you know what a terrifyingly weird sensation that is. As soon as I got back home, I made another appointment with my GP, who sent me to have my heart monitored.
At the same time, despite all my gym training, running and healthy eating, I didn’t feel like I was losing any weight either. I remember going to the doctor once, and them telling me that if I lost a bit of weight, then I would feel better. This is when I told them all about my exercise routine and my diet. I was a vegetarian at the time as well, so was no stranger to fruits and vegetables.
Well, after my heart monitor test, as well as a blood test, the results came back that my TSH (thyroid stimulating hormones) had gone from borderline low to extremely low levels. I had hypothyroidism.
What is hypothyroidism?
Hypothyroidism is a medical condition where your thyroid gland decides to slack off on the job. The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland found at the base of your throat. The thyroid hormones play a crucial role in regulating various bodily functions, including metabolism, energy levels, and temperature control.
Hypothyroidism can be caused by various factors, including autoimmune disorders, iodine deficiency, or certain medications. You'll feel like a zombie, tired all the time, and the pounds might start creeping up no matter what you eat. I hadn’t even chalked my constant feeling of cold to being ill. I had just assumed that was the way I was. Or the lack of insulation in these British homes!
In 2019, NICE reported that Hypothyroidism is found in about 2% of the UK population and in more than 5% of those over 60. Women are 5 to 10 times more likely to be affected than men.
How is it similar to Menopause?
This is where it gets interesting. Many women in their 40s begin to experience symptoms such as fatigue, weight gain, heart palpitations, dry skin, cold flashes. As well, according to Thyroid UK, Hypothyroidism is mostly seen in women between the ages of 40-50.
Other symptoms of an underactive thyroid include:
slow movements and thoughts
muscle aches and weakness
brittle hair and nails
loss of libido (sex drive)
pain, numbness and a tingling sensation in the hand and fingers (carpal tunnel syndrome)
irregular periods or heavy periods
These symptoms are very similar to peri-menopause symptoms.
How is it different from Menopause?
So how is an underactive thyroid different to menopause? One crucial distinction is that hypothyroidism affects women of all ages, while menopause typically occurs in women between their late 40s and early 50s. If you're experiencing any of these symptoms, it's essential to consult a healthcare professional to get an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
If an underactive thyroid isn’t treated then it can lead to further symptoms such as
a low-pitched and hoarse voice, a puffy-looking face, thinned or partly missing eyebrows, a slow heart rate, hearing loss and anaemia.
I was lucky that at this point I hadn’t heard about the menopause despite being just in my forties, and that I decided to consult my doctor rather than a Facebook Group Page, that I have seen so many women do. I was already losing my eyebrows at this point, I was anaemic (but was blaming my vegetarian diet) and as I mentioned earlier, had severe heart palpitations.
If hypothyroidism isn’t treated it can lead to heart disease, heart failure, goiters and even nerve damage to the body’s extremities.
If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms and aren’t sure if you are in the menopause or not, I would recommend that you visit your doctor as soon as possible and request a blood test. Next week, I will discuss what you can do to help an underactive thyroid.