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Migraine Patients: Are You At Risk Of Hypothyroidism?

Learn how hypothyroidism and thyroid disorders can be risk factors and potential triggers for migraine headaches and chronic migraines.
Migraine Patients: Are You At Risk Of Hypothyroidism?
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Hypothyroidism can be a big headache in more ways than one! While headaches -- including tension-type headaches and migraine -- can be a symptom of hypothyroidism, there’s now evidence that hypothyroidism and thyroid disorders are risk factors and potential triggers for migraine headaches and chronic migraines. Ahead, more about hypothyroidism and the relationship with migraine.

In this article: 

Migraine is a condition that affects many women. According to research in the journal Headache, an estimated 1 in 5 women experience migraine during a typical 3-month period. Migraine symptoms typically go far beyond a regular headache and can include nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and sensitivity to light. Treating migraine can be challenging: many patients don’t respond to traditional headache remedies and require preventive therapies and strong medications with added side effects. As a result, living with chronic migraine can result in disability and significantly reduce the overall quality of your life.

When it comes to hypothyroidism and migraine, it’s a two-way street. We know that hypothyroidism -- including mild subclinical hypothyroidism -- can increase your risk of developing a migraine disorder and may result in a greater frequency of migraines and more migraine attacks of greater severity. But research now shows that the relationship between migraine and hypothyroidism is “bidirectional.” And patients with migraine disease are also more likely to develop hypothyroidism. A 2016 study reported that around 7% of patients with a pre-existing headache disorder were later diagnosed with hypothyroidism.

If you have migraine disease, what does that mean for your potential for thyroid dysfunction? A study published in the journal Headache found that new-onset hypothyroidism is 21% more prevalent in people with headache disorders. And a new diagnosis of hypothyroidism is 41% more prevalent in people with migraine.

Can you reduce your risk of developing hypothyroidism?

If you have migraine disease, there are several ways you can potentially reduce your risk of developing hypothyroidism. Specifically:

Can hypothyroidism treatment help your migraine?

There’s some good news. According to research reported by the American Headache Society, treating migraine patients with thyroid hormone replacement medication can result in a decrease in headache frequency of as much as 78%. So, if you’re a patient with hypothyroidism, being diagnosed and treated for hypothyroidism could significantly improve your quality of life and migraine symptoms.

With thyroid treatment, you may also experience a reduction in the number of migraine episodes and their severity. Sudden decreases in estrogen levels – common during menstrual periods and perimenopause – are known triggers for migraine. Donna Hurlock, MD, in her new book, Patient-Focused Hypothyroidism Treatment, suggests that treating hypothyroidism can help reduce estrogen fluctuations. Says Dr. Hurlock:

“Because estrogen is highly sensitive to thyroid levels, hypothyroid women tend to have more intense responses to sudden drops and fluctuations in estrogen levels and more exaggerated peaks and valleys in estrogen levels due to slowed estrogen clearance by the sluggish hypothyroid liver.”

Dr. Hurlock also points to the relationship between cold body temperature and migraine. Untreated thyroid disorders can result in a sub-normal body temperature, a known migraine trigger. Says Dr. Hurlock:

“…a Finnish study described this association between coldness and migraines in an article published in 2014. The authors reported a statistically significant reduction in the surface temperature of five peripheral sites, including the nose and hands, among migraine patients compared to non-migraineur controls.”

Because thyroid hormone replacement medication can raise body temperature, Dr. Hurlock believes that, in part, explains the benefits of thyroid treatment for people with migraine disease.

WYour next steps if you have migraine headaches

If you’ve been diagnosed with migraine headaches, it’s important to understand that you’re at increased risk of hypothyroidism.

Your first step should be to become familiar with the symptoms of hypothyroidism, so you can spot the signs that your thyroid has become underactive as soon as they develop.

The next step is to monitor your thyroid function with periodic blood tests. This will make it easier to detect changes in thyroid levels that may point to hypothyroidism.

Finally, if you suspect hypothyroidism or have been diagnosed with an underactive thyroid, it’s crucial to receive treatment to replace missing thyroid hormone and optimize your thyroid function.

A note from Paloma

Periodic monitoring of your thyroid hormone levels is easy and affordable with Paloma’s home thyroid test kit. Your kit contains everything you need for sample collection and testing thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), free T3, free T4, and Thyroid Peroxidase (TPO) antibody levels. You also can add on reverse T3 and vitamin D. Your thyroid test kit is sent directly to your address, requires an easy finger prick, and you send it back to the lab with pre-paid shipping. Your thyroid lab results are released to your secure online dashboard within days, similar to the wait time for in-person lab results, without the inconvenience.

To help interpret your results or treat existing hypothyroidism, you can also schedule a virtual visit with one of Paloma’s knowledgeable thyroid practitioners. They are genuinely committed to providing comprehensive thyroid treatment. Paloma’s doctors will work with you to prescribe whichever thyroid medication can safely normalize your thyroid function and best resolve your symptoms.

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Mary Shomon

Patient Advocate

Mary Shomon is an internationally-recognized writer, award-winning patient advocate, health coach, and activist, and the New York Times bestselling author of 15 books on health and wellness, including the Thyroid Diet Revolution and Living Well With Hypothyroidism. On social media, Mary empowers and informs a community of more than a quarter million patients who have thyroid and hormonal health challenges.

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