Migraine and Headache May Be Risk Factor for Hypothyroidism

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Living with migraine can mean living with a complex health profile. There are several conditions that can be comorbid to migraine, meaning that we can have them along with migraine disease, but they don't cause each other. There's also a second group of conditions — conditions for which migraine can be a risk factor.

A recent study concluded that migraine and other headache disorders may be a risk factor for developing new onset hypothyroidism.

The study:

Study objective:

"To determine whether headache disorders are a risk factor for the development of new onset hypothyroidism."1

Study background:

"Past studies have reported associations between headache disorders and hypothyroidism, but the directionality of the association is unknown."1

Study methods:

  • Data for this study was drawn from the Fernald Medical Monitoring Program (FMMP), which included 8, 788 adult residents who lived around the Fernald uranium processing plant near Cincinnati, Ohio.
  • Residents had physical examinations and thyroid function testing every three years during the 20-year program.
  • Residents were excluded from the study group if their health history showed evidence of past thyroid disease or abnormal thyroid function tests at the first office visit.
  • Headache disorder diagnoses were established by self-reporting of “frequent headaches,” use of any headache- or migraine-specific medication, or a physician diagnosis of a headache disorder.
  • The primary outcome measure for this study was new onset hypothyroidism defined as the initiation of thyroid replacement therapy or TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) levelof 10 or higher without thyroid medication.

Study results:

  • Residents with headache disorders had a 21 percent increased risk of developing new onset hypothyroidism.
  • Residents with possible migraine showed an increased risk of 41 percent.

Study conclusion:

"Headache disorders may be associated with an increased risk for the development of new onset hypothyroidism."1

Comments from study authors:

In a press release from the University of Cincinnati, Vincent T. Martin, MD, commented:

"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. Regardless, physicians should be more vigilant in testing for hypothyroidism in persons with headache disorders."2

Comments and implications for patients:

This study is a solid reminder that our bodies are like ecosystems where everything can impact everything else. Given the increased rates of new onset hypothyroidism shown among study participants with migraine, testing for hypothyroidism seems wise, especially if symptoms of hypothyroidism are present.

In a study published in 2002, Marcelo E. Bigal and colleagues concluded:

"Subclinical (undetected) hypothyroidism may be associated with the development of new daily persistent headaches. Also, hypothyroidism may be associated to refractoriness to treatment in patients with primary (primary headaches are headaches that are not caused by another disease or condition) headaches, e.g. migraine."3

This presents us with additional reasons to check for hypothyroidism. Consider also that hormonal fluctuations an imbalances can impact and trigger migraine. This isn't limited to reproductive hormones. It includes thyroid.

More helpful articles:

Migraine, Headache, and Thyroid

12 Symptoms of Hypothyroidism

Sources:

1 Martin, AT; Pinney, SM; Xie, C; et al. "Headache Disorders May Be a Risk Factor for the Development of New Onset Hypothyroidism." Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain. Early View. First Published September 16, 2016.

2 University of Cincinnati (UC) Academic Health Center. "Suffering from headaches? You may be at increased risk for a thyroid condition." ScienceDaily. September 27, 2016.

3 Bigal, ME, Sheftell, FD; Rapoport, AM; et al. (2002) "Chronic Daily Headache: Identification of Factors Associated With Induction and Transformation." Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain 2002;42 (7), 575-581.