30 September 2016

Are your headaches linked to your thyroid?

The findings of a new study suggest that people with migraines are particularly susceptible to hypothyroidism. However, it doesn't prove that one condition causes the other.


People with migraines and other headache disorders have a greater risk of a thyroid disease known as hypothyroidism, a new study suggests.

Monitoring project

Hypothyroidism occurs when the body doesn't produce sufficient amounts of thyroid hormone. This can cause mood swings, weight gain, hair loss, fatigue, constipation and irregular menstrual cycles, according to researchers at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.

The study included more than 8,400 people. The volunteers were followed for 20 years as part of a medical monitoring project.

Read: Interesting headache facts

People with pre-existing headache disorders – such as cluster or tension headaches – had a 21 percent higher risk of hypothyroidism, the investigators found. And people with a possible migraine disorder had a 41 percent greater risk.

The findings suggest that people with migraines are particularly susceptible to hypothyroidism. However, the study doesn't prove that one condition causes the other.

Unclear link

Migraine affects about 12 percent of Americans. Hypothyroidism affects about 2 percent. The conditions are rarely life-threatening. But these conditions can cause decreased quality of life if patients don't get adequate treatment, the study authors noted.

What might link headaches to hypothyroidism isn't clear, the researchers pointed out.

Read: Losing your mind over headaches?

"It is possible that the development of hypothyroidism in a headache patient might further increase the frequency of headache, as past studies have found that treatment of hypothyroidism reduces the frequency of headache," study co-author Dr Vincent Martin, a professor of medicine, said in a school news release.

"Regardless, physicians should be more vigilant in testing for hypothyroidism in persons with headache disorders," concluded Martin. He's also co-director of the Headache and Facial Pain Centre at the UC Gardner Neuroscience Institute.

The thyroid is a gland at the base of the neck that is part of the endocrine system. Thyroid hormones control the rate of many of the body's activities, including heart rate and how fast you burn calories.

The study was published online in Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain.

Read more:

What is a headache?

Causes of headaches

Treating headaches

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Headache expert

Dr Elliot Shevel is a South African migraine surgery pioneer and the founder and medical director of The Headache Clinic in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town, South Africa. The Headache Clinic is a multidisciplinary practice dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of Primary Headaches and Migraines. Dr Shevel is also the main author of all scientific publications generated by his team. He recently won a high level science debate in which he was able to prove that the current migraine diagnosis and classification is not based on data. Tertiary Education - Dr Shevel holds both Dental and Medical degrees, and practises as a specialist Maxillo-facial and Oral Surgeon. Follow the Headache Clinic on Twitter@HeadacheClinic.

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