Thyroid disease and headaches

Hypothyroidism, or under-active thyroid is known to cause headaches or worsen pre-existent migraines. Correcting this deficiency with medications such as Synthroid or Armour Thyroid often improves headaches.

Researchers at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine tried to determine if having headaches made one more prone to developing hypothyroidism. They examined 8,412 healthy people and checked their thyroid function every 3 years over a 20 year period. They excluded from the group people with past thyroid disease or abnormal thyroid function tests at the first office visit. The diagnosis of a headache disorder was established based on person’s report of “frequent headaches,” by the use of any headache-specific medication, or a physician’s diagnosis of a headache disorder. They also recorded age, sex, body mass index, income, smoking, narcotic use, and medicines that could cause thyroid dysfunction.

Headache disorders were present in about 26% of the population and new onset hypothyroidism developed in 7%. Those who had a headache disorder had a slightly higher risk (1.2 times) of developing hypothyroidism. The researchers concluded that headache disorders may be associated with increased risk for the development of new onset hypothyroidism. These results were published in Headache.

One of my colleagues tells an embarrassing story of his wife’s headaches. She developed them after giving birth to their child, so he attributed them to stress and lack of sleep. When headaches persisted she went to her primary care doctor who discovered that she had an underactive thyroid. The headaches promptly went away with thyroid medicine.

Besides headaches, low thyroid function can cause weight gain, fatigue, constipation, muscle cramps, intolerance of cold, dryness of the skin, memory and concentration difficulties. Many of these symptoms also occur with magnesium deficiency, so both RBC magnesium and thyroid function tests (along with vitamin B12, vitamin D, and routine tests) need to be checked when headaches worsen or new ones develop.

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