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Raynaud's Syndrome and Hypothyroidism

Explore the connection between Raynaud’s Syndrome and hypothyroidism.
Raynaud's Syndrome and Hypothyroidism
Last updated:
9/11/2023
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Do your fingers or toes feel unusually cold, numb, or tingly? Do they turn blue or white?  You could have Raynaud’s Syndrome – a blood vessel condition that can make fingers and toes feel cold and numb. You may not think that hypothyroidism is connected, but the relationship between these two conditions has been a subject of interest for researchers and medical professionals. While the exact connection between these two conditions is not fully understood, studies have shown a significant association between Raynaud’s and an underactive thyroid. In this article, we’ll learn more about Raynaud’s and its link to hypothyroidism.

What is Raynaud’s Syndrome?

Raynaud’s Syndrome – sometimes called Raynaud’s Phenomenon or Raynaud’s Disease, and sometimes spelled “Reynaud’s” -- is a disorder that affects the blood vessels in your extremities, primarily the fingers and toes. It causes the small arteries to constrict, resulting in reduced blood flow and causing the affected areas to turn white or blue and feel cold, numb, and tingling.

Some of the common clinical symptoms of Raynaud’s include:

Color Changes: The most noticeable symptom of Raynaud’s is a change in the color of the affected fingers or toes. During an episode, the affected area may turn white or pale due to the constriction of blood vessels. As blood flow is restored, the area may turn blue before returning to its normal color.

Numbness and Tingling: Along with color changes, individuals with Raynaud’s may experience numbness and a tingling or prickling sensation in the affected areas. The sensations can be quite uncomfortable and are often described as a “pins and needles” feeling.

Cold Sensitivity: People with Raynaud’s are more sensitive to cold temperatures than others. Exposure to cold weather, air conditioning, or touching cold objects can trigger an episode. Individuals with Raynaud’s need to keep their extremities warm to prevent symptoms from occurring.

Stress-Induced Episodes: Stress and emotional triggers can also bring on an episode of Raynaud’s Syndrome. High-stress situations, anxiety, and even certain medications can contribute to the constriction of blood vessels, leading to symptoms.

Limited Blood Flow: During an episode, blood flow to the affected areas is restricted, resulting in a decrease in temperature. This can cause discomfort and a noticeable difference in temperature between the affected fingers or toes and the rest of the body.

The Raynaud’s-Hypothyroidism link

Hypothyroidism is a condition characterized by an underactive thyroid gland, leading to insufficient production of thyroid hormones. These hormones regulate various bodily functions, including metabolism, body temperature, and blood flow. When the thyroid gland does not produce enough hormones, it can lead to multiple symptoms, including fatigue, weight gain, and sensitivity to cold temperatures.

So, what is the relationship between Raynaud’s and hypothyroidism? Research suggests that the link may lie in the hormonal imbalances caused by hypothyroidism. Thyroid hormones have a direct impact on blood vessel function and circulation. When the thyroid gland doesn’t produce sufficient hormones, it can result in abnormal blood vessel responses and compromised blood flow regulation, leading to conditions like Raynaud’s.

In addition to this hormonal connection, autoimmunity is another factor contributing to the relationship between the two conditions. Both Raynaud’s Syndrome and hypothyroidism can have underlying autoimmune components. Autoimmune disorders occur when the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues. Some studies have shown a higher prevalence of Raynaud’s Syndrome in patients with autoimmune Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.

One early study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine reported on a patient whose Raynaud’s disappeared quickly with thyroid hormone replacement medication. The study also suggested that Raynaud’s symptoms may be early markers that can help lead to a diagnosis of hypothyroidism.

A similar study published in the Journal of Endocrinology Investigation reported on a case of a patient with a 15-year history of Raynaud’s. After being diagnosed with hypothyroidism and treated with thyroid hormone medication for two months, his Raynaud’s symptoms completely disappeared.

A 2013 study published in the journal Endocrinología y Nutrición reported skin changes and signs consistent with Raynaud’s as associated with hypothyroidism. A study published in the journal BMC Endocrine Disorders in 2021

Another study reported a high incidence and prevalence of new cases of hypothyroidism among people with Raynaud’s and system sclerosis.

. Therefore, it is vital for healthcare providers to consider hypothyroidism as a possible cause of Raynaud’s phenomenon in patients presenting with this symptom.

Though Raynaud’s Syndrome can occur independently of hypothyroidism, individuals with undiagnosed or uncontrolled hypothyroidism are more prone to developing Raynaud’s symptoms. Therefore, individuals with Raynaud’s Syndrome must get their thyroid function evaluated to rule out any underlying Hypothyroidism.





Treatment for hypothyroidism and Raynaud’s

Management and treatment of Raynaud’s Syndrome and hypothyroidism primarily focus on addressing the underlying causes and symptoms. For people with hypothyroidism, thyroid hormone replacement therapy is prescribed to restore thyroid function to optimal levels. This treatment can also help improve blood flow and reduce the severity of Raynaud’s symptoms in individuals with both conditions. In some cases, thyroid treatment may ultimately resolve Raynaud’s.

If you have been diagnosed with Raynaud’s Syndrome, several treatment options are available to help manage the condition and reduce the severity and frequency of episodes. Here’s a look at some common approaches:

Lifestyle modifications: Making specific lifestyle changes can go a long way in managing Raynaud’s Syndrome. Keeping yourself warm is crucial, especially in cold temperatures. Layering clothing, wearing gloves and warm socks, and using hand and foot warmers can help prevent attacks. Avoiding triggers such as smoking, caffeine, and stress can also be beneficial.

Medications: In some cases, medications may be prescribed to relieve symptoms and improve blood flow. Calcium channel blockers are commonly used as they relax and widen the blood vessels, helping to prevent spasms. Other medications that may be prescribed include alpha-blockers, vasodilators, and topical creams.

Biofeedback therapy: This treatment involves learning to control certain bodily functions that are not under voluntary control, such as skin temperature and blood flow. Using sensors and monitoring devices, you can learn techniques to increase blood flow to the affected extremities and reduce the severity of attacks.

Nerve surgery: In severe cases of Raynaud’s Syndrome that have not responded well to other treatments, nerve surgery may be considered. This involves cutting or blocking the nerves responsible for blood vessel constriction, thus preventing spasms.

Alternative therapies: Some individuals find relief from Raynaud’s Syndrome symptoms through alternative therapies such as acupuncture, herbal supplements, and relaxation techniques like yoga or meditation. While the efficacy of these treatments may vary from person to person, they are worth exploring as complementary options.

A note from Paloma

If you suspect that you may have either Raynaud’s Syndrome or hypothyroidism, it is essential to consult a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan. Early intervention and management can significantly improve the quality of life and prevent complications associated with these conditions. Paloma’s team of expert thyroid practitioners can work with you to diagnose and comprehensively treat your underactive thyroid condition.

In conclusion, the relationship between Raynaud’s Syndrome and hypothyroidism is multifaceted. Hormonal imbalances, autoimmune components, and compromised blood flow regulation contribute to the association between the two conditions. Awareness and understanding of this relationship can aid in the early detection and effective management of both Raynaud’s and hypothyroidism, ultimately improving your health and well-being.

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References:

Shagan BP. Raynaud’s Phenomenon and Thyroid Deficiency. Archives of Internal Medicine. 1980;140(6):832. doi:https://doi.org/10.1001/archinte.1980.00330180106029 https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/600024

Alcázar Lázaro V, Aguilar Martínez A. Skin changes associated to hypothyroidism. Endocrinología y Nutrición (English Edition). 2013;60(6):345-347. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.endoen.2012.08.014 https://www.elsevier.es/en-revista-endocrinologia-nutricion-english-edition--412-articulo-skin-changes-associated-hypothyroidism-S2173509313001165

Paolee Y, Foocharoen C, Charoensri S, Mayxay M, Mahakkanukrauh A, Suwannaroj S, Nanagara R. The prevalence and clinical features associated of hypothyroidism among Thai systemic sclerosis patients. Sci Rep. 2021 Jul 21;11(1):14902. doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-94371-6. PMID: 34290330; PMCID: PMC8295267. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8295267/

Shagan BP, Friedman SA. Raynaud’s phenomenon and thyroid deficiency. Arch Intern Med. 1980 Jun;140(6):832-3. PMID: 7387277. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7387277/

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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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