Doctors consider a period that happens every 21 to 35 days normal. Fluctuations in your menstrual cycle — like having two periods in one month or missing one period — aren't always cause for concern. In fact, it can be normal for young girls who have just started their periods or women who are in perimenopause (the years leading up to menopause) to experience some fluctuations. But, sometimes, frequent periods or a missed period may be a symptom of a health problem.
If your period has happened twice in one month or if you've missed a period, you might've considered possible causes such as endometriosis, uterine fibroids or another condition affecting the female reproductive system. But did you know that thyroid disease can also cause abnormal periods?
Affecting an estimated 20 million Americans, thyroid disease is common — especially in women. Women are about five to eight times more likely than men to develop a thyroid condition. Here's how to know if a thyroid problem could be causing your irregular period.
How thyroid disease is linked to your period
The thyroid gland isn't officially part of the female reproductive system (it's part of the endocrine system). But the hormones produced by the thyroid gland help the female reproductive system work as it should.
Thyroid disease occurs when the thyroid gland makes too much or too little thyroid hormone. When your thyroid hormone levels are imbalanced, it can affect your whole body in different ways, including your menstrual cycle.
Thyroid disease can cause your period to be unpredictable, too light or too heavy. Thyroid disease can also cause amenorrhea (no period for 90 days or more) and early menopause (menopause before 40 years of age).
Having two periods in one month or a missed period — while also having the other symptoms of thyroid disease — could mean you have a thyroid problem.
Symptoms of thyroid disease
There are two main types of thyroid disease: hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism. Hypothyroidism is when the thyroid gland makes too little thyroid hormone. Hyperthyroidism is when the thyroid gland makes too much thyroid hormone.
Though both types of thyroid disease can cause irregular periods, each type has its own set of distinct symptoms.
Signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
- Dry hair or skin
- Fertility problems
- Heavy or irregular periods
- Joint and muscle pain
- Trouble enduring cold temperatures
- Weight gain
If you have an irregular period and one or more of these symptoms, you may have hypothyroidism.
Signs and symptoms of hyperthyroidism include:
- A lump at the base of the front of the neck (enlarged thyroid gland, or goiter)
- Fertility problems
- Frequent bowel movements
- Irregular periods
- Muscle weakness
- Trouble enduring hot temperatures
- Trouble sleeping
- Weight loss
If you have an irregular period and one or more of these symptoms, you may have hyperthyroidism.
Make an appointment with your primary care provider to discuss your symptoms and concerns. If your signs and symptoms point to thyroid disease, your doctor can order a blood test to diagnose hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism.
Thyroid disease treatment can regulate your period
Doctors treat hypothyroidism by increasing thyroid hormone levels with a medicine called levothyroxine. Levothyroxine contains a hormone identical to one made by your thyroid gland. On the other hand, treatment for hyperthyroidism depends on what's causing the condition. Treatment options for hyperthyroidism include medicine, radioiodine therapy and thyroid surgery.
In some cases, treatment for hyperthyroidism can cause thyroid hormone levels to decrease too much. If this drop results in hypothyroidism, doctors prescribe levothyroxine as a treatment.
Thyroid disease treatment aims to bring your thyroid hormone levels back to normal. When this goal is met, your period should become more regular. Your fertility problems should also improve.
Most thyroid diseases are chronic conditions that require lifelong treatment. If you're diagnosed with thyroid disease, you'll need frequent blood tests to ensure your treatment is still working. If needed, your doctor will adjust your medicines or treatment plan, so your thyroid hormone levels stay in balance.
If you think you have a thyroid problem, talk to your doctor
A thyroid problem is a very serious condition that affects nearly every part of your body and health, not just your period. If you're experiencing the signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism, tell your doctor and ask if you should have a blood test to check your thyroid hormone levels. Prompt treatment can prevent the long-term complications that can happen when a thyroid disease goes unmanaged, including infertility and early menopause.
The Christ Hospital Health Network offers diagnostic testing for conditions of the thyroid as well as specialty care for endocrinology disorders. Schedule an appointment online with one of our primary care providers to talk about your thyroid disease concerns and learn more.