The Connection Between Hypothyroidism and Headaches

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Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid gland) can cause severe headaches. How it causes headaches is unclear, but nearly one-third of hypothyroid patients report frequent headaches. Magnesium supplementation and levothyroxine may both help reduce the frequency and severity of hypothyroidism-related headaches.

At least 5% of American adults have hypothyroidism (probably many more undiagnosed), while more than 50% of the general population suffer from a headache disorder such as migraine.

Just because headaches are prevalent doesn’t mean you have to live with them. There are medical and natural treatments to stop and prevent hypothyroid headaches from impacting your quality of life.

At PrimeHealth’s Denver clinic, we’ve helped hundreds of patients with hypothyroidism. We identify and address your unique root cause of thyroid disease — in many cases, permanently reversing hypothyroidism.

Does Hypothyroidism Cause Headaches?

Hypothyroidism can cause headaches. In almost a third of hypothyroid patients, headache or unilateral head pain is reported as a symptom. According to some studies, headache disorders may be a risk factor for developing hypothyroidism.

According to the International Classification of Headache Disorders, about 30% of people with hypothyroidism have headaches attributed to hypothyroidism. Though its mechanism is unclear, female sex and history of migraine are common risk factors.

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What Does a Hypothyroid Headache Feel Like? 

Hypothyroid headache often feels like pulsing pain on both sides of the head or a band-like sensation. Migraineurs (those with diagnosed migraines) may experience hypothyroidism headaches that feel like migraine symptoms.

Read more: 10 Best Thyroid Supplements

The Connection Between Hypothyroidism and Migraine

Researchers have not discovered why there is a connection between hypothyroidism and migraine. Perhaps the poorly understood origins of migraine or the multitude of unique hypothyroidism causes could make studying the connection inconsistent.

But there is a connection between low thyroid hormone levels and a history of headaches or migraines. Two risk factors that apply to both hypothyroidism and chronic migraine are constant stress and being female — strengthening the connection.

Let’s briefly clarify the differences between headache vs. migraine:

  • Headache is simply head pain. Many conditions, including migraines, cause headaches. Headache symptoms can occur due to many things, such as poor posture, trauma, stress, and various other conditions.
  • Migraine is a primary headache disorder that typically includes throbbing on one side of the head. Unlike a headache, other symptoms may accompany migraine, such as nausea, vomiting, vision changes, and visual phenomena (aura). Migraine can also occur without head pain; many migraine sufferers experience these additional symptoms between actual head pain attacks. Migraine may be chronic (15+ migraine days per month) or episodic (<14 days per month).

Pre-existing migraine conditions leave you with an increased risk of hypothyroid headaches by 41%. Migraine attacks seem to be particularly associated with subclinical hypothyroidism — which refers to low thyroid hormone levels, but not so low as to constitute a diagnosis.

Hypothyroidism treatment options, such as levothyroxine T4 (thyroid hormone replacement), often relieve these hypothyroidism headaches. This relief further supports the strong connection between thyroid dysfunction and developing headaches.

Although levothyroxine may treat hypothyroidism and reduce hypothyroid headaches, headache can be a potential side effect of levothyroxine, so it’s not a surefire treatment for hypothyroid headache.

In some cases, I will choose to prescribe patients compounded or desiccated thyroid hormone, so each patient receives the unique ratio of hormones their body needs. There are also natural remedies, such as dietary changes, iodine, vitamin D, and glutathione.

One of our health coaches, Jenny, had chronic migraine and a thyroid condition. Here’s what she experienced:

“Before learning about my thyroid disorder, I had chronic migraine, which meant I experienced 15+ headache days per month. Since addressing my thyroid disorder, reducing stress, and making other positive lifestyle changes, I now no longer meet the diagnostic criteria for “chronic” migraine. I could not have done this without the help of a functional medicine care team.”

Will Headache Treatment Impact Hypothyroidism?

Common headache and migraine treatments — such as aspirin, acetaminophen, and NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) — can impact your thyroid in large quantities. Other common OTC migraine medications, like Excedrin, contain caffeine, which can cause further downstream effects on hormones/adrenals if taken frequently.

Talk to your healthcare provider about how much medicine is too much, even just for over-the-counter drugs.

Typically, medication used to treat headaches is not a cause of hypothyroid. 

Below are common medications that may contribute to hypothyroidism:

  • Blood pressure meds, such as methimazole or radioactive iodine
  • Irregular heartbeat meds, such as amiodarone
  • Bipolar medication, such as lithium
  • Cancer and leukemia treatments, such as interleukin-2 or tyrosine kinase inhibitors
  • Thalidomide, which treats various conditions including leprosy (Hansen’s disease)

FAQs

What is hypothyroidism?

Also called underactive thyroid or Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, hypothyroidism is an endocrine disorder describing low levels of thyroxine (T4) or triiodothyronine (T3) or high levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). Imbalances of these hormones may result in headaches.

Read more: Differences Between Hypo- and Hyperthyroidism

What are the symptoms of hypothyroidism?

Hypothyroidism may result in the following symptoms:

Seeking Treatment

Hypothyroidism is a complex condition with multiple possible root causes and a host of symptoms that do not occur in every patient.

Seek treatment from thyroid experts who will respect you, listen to you, and recommend the right combination of natural and medicinal treatments.

At PrimeHealth in Denver, Colorado, we have reversed hypothyroidism in hundreds of cases. It’s not easy, but it’s possible for most people. Here’s how:

  1. We identify the underlying cause of your hypothyroidism. Using thyroid tests to measure hormones, antibodies, and more, we can paint a full picture of your thyroid function.
  2. We form a treatment plan that addresses your unique underlying cause while taking into account your whole body health. We utilize natural treatments when possible, but medical interventions may be necessary.
  3. We set you up for success on your journey towards wellness through follow-ups and other targeted strategies.

We are dedicated to helping Colorado residents heal naturally and safely. Whether you’re a patient dealing with migraines or concerned about your thyroid, we’re here to listen and help you develop a plan that works.

Sources

  1. Bhattacharjee, M., Karim, M. R., Rahman, M. A., Mondol, G., Khan, M. K., Biswas, R., & Sarker, U. K. (2021). Association of low thyroid hormone with migraine headache. Mymensingh medical journal: MMJ, 30(1), 43-47.
  2. Lisotto, C., Mainardi, F., Maggioni, F., & Zanchin, G. (2013). The comorbidity between migraine and hypothyroidism. The Journal of Headache and Pain, 14(1), 1-1.
  3. Martin, A. T., Pinney, S. M., Xie, C., Herrick, R. L., Bai, Y., Buckholz, J., & Martin, V. T. (2017). Headache disorders may be a risk factor for the development of new onset hypothyroidism. Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain, 57(1), 21-30.
  4. Sebe, A., Satar, S., & Sari, A. (2004). Thyroid storm induced by aspirin intoxication and the effect of hemodialysis: a case report. Advances in therapy, 21, 173-177.
  5. de Savary, N., Lee, R., & Vaidya, B. (2004). Severe hypothyroidism after thalidomide treatment.Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 97(9), 443-443.
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