Recurring headaches or migraines can be worrying, especially if you don’t know what’s causing them.
Your headaches might suggest there is a problem with your thyroid, and you could have a condition called hyperthyroidism.
You should speak to your doctor about your symptoms so they can diagnose or rule out hyperthyroidism or other thyroid-related conditions.
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Hyperthyroidism is the medical term for an overactive thyroid, where the thyroid gland produces more thyroid hormone than what your body needs to work properly.
Hyperthyroidism causes and risk factors
Several risk factors can increase your chance of developing hyperthyroidism, including:
Graves’ disease: an autoimmune disorder where the immune system mistakenly attacks the thyroid and damages it, causing it to become overactive.
Medication: high iodine levels in the body can cause the thyroid to produce too much thyroid hormone.
Thyroid nodules: you can develop an overactive thyroid due to nodules (lumps) developing on your thyroid, although this is rare.
Hyperthyroidism is more prevalent in women and people over the age of 60. You may also have a higher chance of developing hyperthyroidism if you:
Have a family history of thyroid disease
Have pernicious anemia (a disorder caused by a vitamin B12 deficiency)
Consume large amounts of iodine-containing food
Were pregnant within the last six months
Have primary adrenal insufficiency (a hormone condition)
Use products with nicotine
Hyperthyroidism can lead to serious complications when left untreated, including:
Osteoporosis (thinning of the bones), muscle weakness, and pain
A fast heartbeat can result in stroke, heart failure, and blood clots
Fertility and menstrual cycle problems
Graves’ ophthalmopathy (eye disease)
Hyperthyroidism can be treated in several ways, and in some cases, the condition can disappear without treatment.
Graves’ disease-related hyperthyroidism typically worsens over time and leads to complications that can affect your quality of life.
Your thyroid gland is responsible for your body’s metabolism (the rate it burns energy). It produces two hormones, triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4), and releases them into your bloodstream.
These hormones help produce proteins and amino acids and maintain your core body temperature.
An imbalance in these hormone levels can trigger medical conditions and symptoms, including thyroid headaches¹.
Early diagnosis is very important with thyroid problems, so you should speak to your doctor to determine what’s causing your headache and whether it could be your thyroid.
Establishing the cause can ensure you get effective treatment fast to ease symptoms and prevent further complications.
Can hyperthyroidism cause headaches and migraines?
The International Headache Society² lists hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) as a possible cause of headaches, but can hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) also cause headaches?
An early report³ on this topic suggested people suffering from chronic headaches may have hyperthyroidism.
A study was carried out on 30 people with chronic headaches, and six were found to have an overactive thyroid. These findings led researchers to conclude that headaches and hyperthyroidism may be linked.
Another report⁴ published in 2006 examined several cases of people experiencing acute headaches. These people were later found to be suffering from thyrotoxicosis, a complication caused by hyperthyroidism.
As a result of these findings, researchers recommended that patients with new-onset headaches be tested for thyroid problems, including hyperthyroidism.
Research on the link between hyperthyroidism and headaches is limited, and there’s still minimal information available.
However, chronic headaches could suggest you have a thyroid problem (not necessarily hyperthyroidism), which requires treatment.
The thyroid plays an important role in controlling the speed of many body functions (metabolism). Each body function speeds up when you have too much thyroid hormone in your bloodstream, causing symptoms.
Besides headaches, common hyperthyroidism symptoms include:
Make an appointment to see your doctor if you’re experiencing headaches and/or other hyperthyroidism symptoms. Describe your symptoms and any changes you have noticed in detail since many hyperthyroidism symptoms can be linked to various health conditions.
Doctors diagnose hyperthyroidism through blood tests and a thorough physical examination. They will also ask about your personal and family medical history.
If your blood work indicates hyperthyroidism, your doctor may recommend other tests to help determine what’s causing your overactive thyroid.
You might be asked to undergo a radioactive uptake test, a thyroid ultrasound, or a thyroid scan.
Radioiodine uptake test
You’ll take a small, oral dose of radioactive iodine for this test. Your doctor will examine how much radioactive iodine your thyroid gland absorbs.
If your thyroid absorbs a high amount of radioactive iodine, it could mean your thyroid gland is overactive and producing too much thyroxine hormone.
Thyroid ultrasound and thyroid scan
These tests produce thyroid images using high-frequency sound waves. Your doctor can use these tests to detect thyroid nodules and diagnose hyperthyroidism.
You can treat hyperthyroidism, and several treatment options are available. The ideal treatment strategy for you will depend on your physical condition, age, the severity of your hyperthyroidism, and what’s causing it.
Common hyperthyroidism treatments include:
If you’re suffering from recurring headaches and don’t know what’s causing them, you might have a thyroid disorder.
Limited research suggests hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) could cause headaches, along with several other symptoms, although headaches could also mean you have hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid).
Talk to your doctor about your symptoms so they can diagnose or rule out hyperthyroidism. Your doctor will carry out several tests for the condition and suggest a suitable treatment plan.
Thyroid and migraines, understanding the connection | National Headache Institute
10.4 Headache attributed to hypothyroidism | International Headache Society
Thyrotoxicosis presenting with headache (2007 - PDF)
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