How Headaches May Arise from Hypothyroidism

Description of a Headache Attributed to Hypothyroidism

thyroid-gland.jpg
Butterfly-shaped thyroid gland. Sciepro/Getty Images

You may be surprised to know that there is a headache disorder associated with hypothyroidism, a common health condition.

What is Hypothyroidism?

Hypothyroidism refers to an under-active thyroid gland. The thyroid gland, a butterfly-shaped gland located at the front of the neck, produces and releases thyroid hormone, which controls the body's metabolism or how the body uses energy.

There are a number of causes of hypothyroidism.

Hashimoto's autoimmune thyroiditis is the most common cause of hypothyroidism and is caused by the body's immune system attacking the thyroid gland.

What are the Symptoms of Hypothyroidism?

In the early stages of hypothyroidism, a person may experience few to no symptoms. But as the disease progresses and the body's metabolic functions slow down, a number of symptoms may appear.

According to the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE), here are some symptoms of hypothyroidism:

  • Fatigue and drowsiness
  • Forgetfulness and difficulty with learning
  • Dry. brittle hair, skin, and nails
  • Puffy or swollen face
  • Constipation
  • Sore muscles
  • Weight gain
  • Heavy and/or irregular menstrual cycles
  • Increased frequency of miscarriages
  • Increased sensitivity to medications

How is a Headache from Hypothyroidism Diagnosed?

A headache from hypothyroidism is typically located on both sides of the head, is non-throbbing, and is constant.

It's not associated with nausea or vomiting.

A headache attributed to hypothyroidism generally follows the same course as a person's hypothyroidism. For instance, if a person's thyroid disease worsens, than their headache also worsens. Likewise, if their hypothyroid state resolves, than the headache should resolve.

Further Links Between Hypothyroidism and Headaches

Approximately 30 percent of people with hypothyroidism also suffer from headaches, according to a small study in Cephalalgia. Also, for those with hypothyroidism, there is often a history of migraine in childhood -- but the precise connection linking these medical conditions is unclear.

Hypothyroidism may also serve as a risk factor for the transformation from episodic to chronic migraine, although this relationship is likely complex and also still unclear.

Finally, in the presence of hypothyroidism, headache can be a manifestation of pituitary tumor. Your doctor will order an MRI of the pituitary gland in your brain if he is concerned about this.

Bottom Line

It's not rare for people who suffer from hypothyroidism to also have a headache disorder, and treatment of the under-active thyroid may improve headache control.

Remain proactive in your healthcare. Always discuss your symptoms or concerns with your doctor, even if you do not think they are relevant.

There might actually be a connection and treating one condition may help or cure the other.

Sources:

American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists. (2008). Hypothyroidism. (2008). Retrieved April 19th 2015,

Bigal ME, Sheftell FD, Rapport AM, Tepper SJ, & Lipton RB. Chronic daily headache: identification of factors associated with induction and transformation. Headache. 2002 Jul-Aug;42(7):575-81.

Headache Classification Committee of the International Headache Society. "The International Classification of Headache Disorders: 3rd Edition (beta version)". Cephalalgia 2013;33(9):629-808.

Lagman-Bartolome AM, & Gladstone J. Metabolic headaches. Neurol Clin. 2014 May;32(2):451-69.

Moreau T, Manceau E, Giroud-Baleydier F, Dumas R, & Giroud M. Headache in hypothyroidism. Prevalence and outcome under thyroid hormone therapy. Cephalalgia. 1998 Dec;18(10): 687-89.

Nussey S, & Whitehead S. Endocrinology: An Integrated Approach. Chapter 3 The thyroid gland. Oxford: BIOS Scientific Publishers;2001. 

Tepper DE, Tepper SJ, Sheftell FD, & Bigal ME. Headache attributed to hypothyroidism. Curr Pain Headache Rep. 2007;Aug;11(4):304-9.


DISCLAIMER: The information in this site is for educational purposes only. It should not be used as a substitute for personal care by a licensed physician. Please see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment of any concerning symptoms or medical condition.

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