Head pain, regardless of its severity, is a nuisance that can result in disruption of one’s daily activities. Depending on the degree of pain, one may even be unable to manage simple actions such as getting out of bed. This type of difficulty is commonly experienced by those who suffer severe head pain known as migraines. Roughly 12 percent of Americans experience these devastating occurrences and many of them are unable to discover the cause. Interestingly, the secret to resolving one’s head troubles may be found in the thyroid.
According to Dr. John Clause Krusz, thyroid and endocrine hormones may have significant influence regarding the development of headaches and migraines. Furthermore, dysfunction in these regions may inhibit treatment of head pains. Thyroid dysfunction in the form of hypothyroidism may result in increased occurrence of headaches and migraines. Understanding the basics of hypothyroidism, headaches, and the link between them may help combat and resolve undesired head pains.
The most common thyroid condition in the U.S. is hypothyroidism, also known as an underactive thyroid. Poor thyroid function can be characterized by reduced production and availability of thyroid hormones. Because the thyroid influences so many systems, including metabolism, there are a wide array of symptoms that may occur when the thyroid malfunctions. Common symptoms associated with hypothyroidism include:
- Weight Gain
- Mood Swings
- Hair Loss
- Irregular Menstruation
- Reduced Cognitive Function
- Sore Muscles
- And many others
Although these symptoms rarely cause fatality, they can severely reduce one’s quality of life. Furthermore, without proper diagnosis, thyroid conditions can go unnoticed for long periods. If one’s head-related problems are in fact caused by a thyroid condition, it is highly unlikely that they will be resolved without getting proper thyroid treatment.
Headaches and Migraines
Nearly everyone has experienced a headache in one form or another. However, one may not realize that there are a variety of headaches, such as sinus, acute, chronic, and hormonal; and each presents its own symptoms. In its most basic form, a headache is defined as pain located in the head and upper neck. Generally, the source of this pain is generated by tissues surrounding the skull or brain. As with many conditions, inflammation is the primary pain contributor. Depending on its location and the degree of inflammation, headache severity ranges from dull and continuous to sharp infrequent pangs.
Migraines are widely recognized as painful and frequently debilitating. Pain induced by a migraine can last anywhere from hours to days. In some cases, pain is so severe that the individual experiences altered vision, sensitivity to noise and odor, nausea, vomiting, and a lack of appetite. Usually the pain is generated by blood vessel contractions in the brain. However, there is still uncertainty regarding a definitive cause of migraine pains. Recent findings support research that suggests a correlation between thyroid disease and headaches and migraines.
Linking Thyroid Dysfunction with Headaches
Recent research further bolsters the connection between thyroid disease and headaches. A study published in Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain included over 8,400 participants observed over 20 years as part of medical research monitoring. The data collected from the study suggests that those with a pre-existing headache disorder have a 21 percent greater risk of developing hypothyroidism. Furthermore, those with a migraine disorder are 41 percent more likely to become hypothyroid.
Research has also shown that hypothyroid patients frequently exhibit a history of migraine issues during childhood. This may be an indicator of a predisposition to developing hypothyroidism. The occurrence of hypothyroidism may also contribute to raising migraine conditions from being episodic (occurring irregularly or infrequently) to chronic (long lasting and occurring regularly). Although this study presents a strong relation between the two conditions, there is not a definitive answer regarding causal factors or which condition influences the other.
Headaches come in various forms and hormone headaches generated by a malfunctioning thyroid have their own unique symptoms. The International Headache Society provides a simplified outline to identify a headache caused by hypothyroidism. Usually, a hypothyroid headache is felt on both sides of the head, is non-throbbing, and remains constant. The pain is more comparable to a tension headache rather than migraine but individual symptom severity varies. Additionally, while migraines are frequently accompanied by nausea and vomiting, hypothyroid headaches are not associated with these symptoms.
Unlike other headache and migraine conditions, hypothyroid headaches fluctuate depending on one’s thyroid function. Therefore, if one’s thyroid condition degrades, the severity of their headache increases. In contrast, as thyroid function improves or is optimized, headaches reduce in severity or disappear completely. With proper treatment of one’s thyroid condition, one may experience complete resolution of their headache condition.
The Right Diagnosis and the Right Treatment
Not all hypothyroid patients experience headaches, but there are many who do. However, those who experience regular headaches may discover that hypothyroidism is the cause. If one is regularly experiencing headaches in addition to any of the symptoms listed above, it may be beneficial to have one’s thyroid function tested. Optimizing one’s thyroid may not only resolve reoccurring head pains but also resolve hypothyroid symptoms such as fatigue, hair loss, and weight gain.
Before treating one’s headache condition by beginning thyroid treatment it is critical to get an accurate diagnosis. In some cases, if thyroid dysfunction is not the cause of a headache, thyroid treatment can worsen headaches and migraines. Therefore, it is necessary to approach each case as a unique situation that requires individualized testing and treatment.
Whatever the cause may be, headaches and migraines are exasperating conditions. Appropriately treating the various causes of head pain, including hypothyroidism, helps improve quality of life. Being well-informed of the connection between thyroid conditions and the occurrence of headaches can help improve diagnosis and treatment quality.