The thyroid is a small but incredibly influential gland located in the front of the neck. Those who are familiar with this powerful piece of anatomy know that it has a significant impact on numerous regions including the metabolism, brain, and weight regulation. Because of the thyroid’s broad influence, dysfunction of this system can result in the development or continuation of many serious conditions such as fibromyalgia.
Unfortunately, the relationship between the thyroid and fibromyalgia is frequently overlooked. To fully understand and treat this chronic condition it is important to be aware of essential contributing factors including thyroid disease.
The Lowdown on the Thyroid and Thyroid Disease
When functioning properly, the thyroid helps regulate many important aspects of health. However, this essential system can malfunction resulting in many symptoms and greater risk of developing other disorders.
The body relies on appropriate production, transport, and balance of thyroid hormones. If critical hormones such as TSH, T4, T3, and Reverse T3 are not maintained, many different issues can arise. There are two broad categories of thyroid disease that can result in significant bodily dysfunction: hypothyroidism, when thyroid function declines, and hyperthyroidism, when thyroid function accelerates. The outcome of both situations is hormonal imbalances resulting in widespread bodily dysfunction.
An autoimmune thyroid condition known as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is one of the leading causes of hypothyroidism. Hashimoto’s causes the body’s own immune system to attack healthy thyroid tissue resulting in poor production and ultimately a deficiency of thyroid hormone. Regardless of the cause, reduced levels of thyroid hormone, specifically the active form triiodothyronine (T3), results in a slowing of bodily function. The subsequent symptoms of hypothyroidism include fatigue, weight gain, slowed cognitive function, depression, sensitivity to cold, and widespread muscle and joint pain.
Graves’ disease is a different autoimmune thyroid condition that triggers an acceleration of thyroid production and activity. This increase can contribute to aggressive and unsustainable hastening of bodily function. Typical indicators of Graves’ disease and hyperthyroidism include rapid weight loss, anxiety, jitteriness, and difficulty focusing. After an extended period of increased thyroid activity, the thyroid becomes exhausted and the resulting crash can leave patients suffering from long-lasting fatigue, temperature sensitivities, and muscle aches and pains.
Thyroid dysfunction shares many similarities with a hypothalamic condition known as fibromyalgia. Those suffering from hypothyroidism, and to a lesser degree hyperthyroidism, frequently develop fibromyalgia or at the very least exhibit symptoms similar to it.
What is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that is notoriously difficult to treat. The primary indicator of fibromyalgia is long-lasting pain and discomfort. It is common for those with this condition to suffer extensive muscle and joint pain, muscle tenderness, fatigue, and exhaustion after even minor physical activity. Other symptoms of fibromyalgia include:
- Headaches and pain in the back of the skull
- Inability to get restful sleep
- Interrupted sleep
- Reynaud’s phenomenon
- Gastrointestinal issues such as IBS, diarrhea, constipation, and bloating
Because the symptoms of fibromyalgia are relatively nondescript, patients may not be properly diagnosed for multiple years. Typically, the condition develops in women between the ages of 20 and 55. However, there are plenty of men among the estimated 10 million cases of fibromyalgia in the U.S.
Is the HPA Axis the Missing Link?
The connection between thyroid disease and fibromyalgia is an important part of understanding both conditions. Fibromyalgia is caused by dysfunction of the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus exerts substantial influence over essential bodily functions including sleep, hormone balance, temperature, and autonomic nervous systems that regulate blood pressure, blood flow, and the transport of food through the gut. As part of the HPA axis, the hypothalamus works together with the pituitary, adrenals, and the thyroid to regulate hormones throughout the body.
The components of the HPA are closely interrelated meaning that malfunction in one area can have a significant negative impact on the others. Dr. J. Teitelbaum, MD, is an expert in chronic conditions, specifically chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia. He believes that hypothyroidism and fibromyalgia are linked through the origin of the dysfunction.
The thyroid is highly influential over the hypothalamus and pituitary. Therefore, reduced thyroid activity can contribute to fibromyalgia-like symptoms and may increase the risk of developing the condition itself. Many symptoms are shared between hypothyroidism and fibromyalgia including fatigue, exhaustion, depression, brain fog, and a variable severity of muscle and joint pain. Regardless if thyroid malfunction is a co-factor of fibromyalgia, a prominent component of its symptoms is reduced thyroid function. When thyroid disease is left untreated, already reduced tissue levels of thyroid hormone can continue to decrease resulting in greater symptom severity.
Thyroid hormone, specifically T3, is an essential part of maintaining cellular energy level and activity. Inhibited levels of thyroid hormone contribute to reduced mitochondrial energy levels resulting in poor cellular activity. Both the hypothalamus and pituitary are particularly sensitive to cellular fatigue. As cellular energy levels decrease, the risk of developing fibromyalgia increases. Therefore, it is important to assess properly assess the thyroid and provide treatment as necessary if a patient is suffering from fibromyalgia.
Supporting the Thyroid to Resolve Fibromyalgia
The link between hypothyroidism and fibromyalgia is strong. Therefore, if you are a thyroid patient experiencing symptoms of fibromyalgia it is quite possible that your thyroid is malfunctioning or is not being treated effectively.
Dr. John Lowe, one of the leading practitioners in the field of fibromyalgia research, found that the chronic symptoms associated with hypothyroidism and fibromyalgia were partially or entirely due to lack of or undertreatment of the thyroid. If you have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia but have not had your thyroid assessed or treated, speak with your doctor about testing and optimizing your thyroid.
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2. Hypothyroidism and Fibromyalgia–What’s the Connection? VeryWell. https://www.verywellhealth.com/the-thyroid-fibromyalgia-connection-3231681
3. How Hypothyroidism Causes Chronic Pain and Fibromyalgia + Treatment. Restart MD. https://www.restartmed.com/hypothyroidism-chronic-pain/
4. The Relationship Between Fibromyalgia & Thyroid Conditions. Natural Endocrine Solutions. http://www.naturalendocrinesolutions.com/articles/the-relationship-between-fibromyalgia-thyroid-conditions/