How Headaches May Arise from Hypothyroidism

Description of a Headache Attributed to Your Under-Active Thyroid Gland

Butterfly-shaped thyroid gland. Sciepro/Getty Images

You may be surprised to learn that there is a headache disorder associated with a having an under-active thyroid gland (called hypothyroidism).

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 one and occurs when your body's immune system attacks your 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
  • 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

What Does A Headache from Hypothyroidism Feel Like?

According to the International Headache Society, a headache from hypothyroidism is typically located on both sides of the head, is non-throbbing, and is constant—so feels more like a tension headache than a migraine, but this is not a hard and fast rule.

Also unlike a migraine, a headache from your under-active thyroid gland is not associated with nausea or vomiting.

Interestingly, the headache generally follows the same course as a person's hypothyroidism. In other words, if a person's thyroid disease worsens, their headache also typically worsens.

Likewise, if their hypothyroid state resolves, the headache should resolve.

Hypothyroidism and Migraines

This all being said, a study in The Journal of Headache and Pain found that hypothyroidism was more common in migraineurs than in the general population, suggesting a plausible link between these two health problems.

The study authors also noted that "headache associated with hypothyroidism" is actually rarely seen by doctors, whereas it is common to see a patient with hypothyroidism who also has migraines.

Research also suggests that for those with hypothyroidism, there is often a history of migraine in childhood. Hypothyroidism may also serve as a risk factor for the transformation from episodic to chronic migraine. Overall, experts still do not quite understand the migraine-hypothyroidism connection, but it is likely pretty complex. 

Treating your Thyroid and Your Headache

It is 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—a double bonus.

That being said, it is important to understand that sometimes headaches do not get better with thyroid treatment, especially if the headache is really a migraine or tension-type headache. In these instances, treating the thyroid gland may even worsen the headache.

This is a complicated topic and a perfect example of how your health care requires an individualized approach, as not everyone's symptoms and medical problems manifest in the same way.

But with close and careful monitoring by your doctor, you can heal well, whether that means treating your thyroid disease, your headache disorder, or both.  

It is also worth mentioning that in the presence of hypothyroidism, headache can rarely 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.

A Word from Verywell

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 the other.


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.

Lisotto C, Mainardi F, Maggioni F, Zanchin G. The comorbidity between migraine and hypothyroidism. J Headache Pain. 2013;14(Suppl 1):P138.

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

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