If your periods are irregular, heavy or missing altogether, there’s a chance you could have a problem with your thyroid.
The thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland that sits at the base of the neck. This gland produces the hormones that control metabolism – how your body uses energy. The thyroid's hormones are super-important, regulating many functions from body weight, to menstrual cycles, to cholesterol levels.
Today, Pink Parcel's resident gynaecologist, Mr Narendra Pisal, tells us the facts on of thyroids and periods.
Do thyroid problems affect periods?
The short answer is yes. A lot of women don’t realise that thyroid problems can affect their menstrual cycles, and visa versa – menstrual problems can also be a sign that something is wrong with the thyroid. Dr Pisal explains how the two are linked. He says: “Excessive or deficient levels of thyroid hormones can lead to heavy, irregular or even absent periods.”
What are the symptoms of an underactive thyroid?
Underactive thyroid symptoms tend to develop slowly, taking several years to surface, which means diagnosis can be difficult. However there are some key signs to look out for. Dr Pisal says: “Symptoms of underactive thyroids (hypothyroidism) include fatigue and tiredness, low energy levels and lethargy, weight gain and muscle aches.”
And what about an overactive thyroid?
The symptoms of overactive thyroids (hyperthyroidism) differ from those outlined above. Dr Pisal says you need to look out for: “Palpitations, anxiety, hand tremors, weight loss, poor sleep and sometimes prominent eyeballs."
How is an underactive or overactive thyroid diagnosed?
It's always wise to keep a check on the frequency and heaviness of your period. Keeping a diary of irregularly heavy bleeding or missing periods can be helpful when it comes to getting a diagnosis. “Doctors will often arrange for thyroid function tests when dealing with abnormal or extremely heavy periods," explains Dr Pisal. "The hormones which control function of both thyroid as well as ovaries are secreted from the same area in the brain. That is why an overactive or underactive thyroid gland can also lead to significant impact on ovarian function and menstrual cycle.”
How are thyroid problems treated?
You'll normally be referred to an endocrinologist (a specialist in hormone conditions) to plan your treatment. “Medicines called thionamides are a common treatment for an overactive thyroid. These stop your thyroid producing excess hormones. Once your thyroid hormone level is under control, your dose may be gradually reduced and then stopped. An underactive thyroid is usually treated by taking daily hormone replacement tablets called levothyroxine. Levothyroxine replaces the thyroxine hormone, which your thyroid doesn't make enough of. You'll initially have regular blood tests until the correct dose of levothyroxine is reached. Some people start to feel better soon after beginning treatment, while others don't notice an improvement in their symptoms for several months. Once you're taking the correct dose, you'll usually have a blood test once a year to monitor your hormone levels,” advises the NHS.