Headaches a Risk Factor for Developing Hypothyroidism
According to a recent study published by researchers at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, individuals who suffer from migraines, cluster headaches, tension headaches or other headache disorders are at a greater risk for hypothyroidism., a condition in which thyroid hormone levels are too low.
Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid hormone levels are too low in an individual. Symptoms include feeling cold, tiring easily, dry skin, forgetfulness, depression and constipation. This condition can only be detected with a blood test.[i]
The study,[ii] titled “Headache Disorders May Be a Risk Factor for the Development of New Onset Hypothyroidism,” followed 8,412 individuals for a 20-year period. Study participants were individuals living near a former uranium processing plant and they received a physical examination and a thyroid function test every 3 years. According to one of its researchers, it is currently the largest study published that suggests that those with headache disorders may be at risk of developing the condition.[iii]
The data indicated that individuals with pre-existing headache conditions had an increased likelihood of developing hypothyroidism by 21%. Those who suffered from migraines were even more vulnerable, with a 41% increase in the likelihood of developing the condition. Approximately 12% of the general population suffers from migraines while hypothyroidism affects about 2%.[iv]
The researchers also found other factors that may increase the risk of developing hypothyroidism, including advanced age, obesity and the presence of hypothyroidism-inducing medications. Females are also more likely than males to suffer from the condition. Additionally, the study further confirms the previous finding that smoking is actually protective against hypothyroidism, though the researchers were careful to caution that the benefits gained from smoking are not worth the risks.[v]
Radiation exposure is another known risk factor for developing hypothyroidism and while the study participants did live near a uranium plant, an association between the two was not found. This is likely because the primary gas released was radon, which would not cause thyroid cancer, and that the amount of uranium dust release was small.
When it comes to explaining the association between headache disorders and hypothyroidism, the researchers have several theories. It could be due to headaches activating the immune system which would trigger activity in the thyroid. Factors such as stress, environmental conditions and genetics may also play a role in it.
While the definite association between the two conditions remains unknown, the researchers of this study believe that physicians treating individuals for migraines and other headache disorders should be more proactive in screening and testing them for hypothyroidism.