Migraine is a common neurological disorder. According to a 2020 study, migraine affects around 40 million people per year in the United States. The signature symptom of a migraine episode is a throbbing, debilitating headache that can last anywhere from a few hours to several days.

Research has shown that a person who experiences migraine may have an increased chance of developing other health conditions, including hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism is a chronic condition that occurs when your body’s thyroid gland doesn’t make enough thyroid hormone. The most common form is Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.

We’ll go over causes, risk factors, and treatment options for both conditions, and dive into the research behind a possible connection.

Current research suggests there is a solid link between migraine and hypothyroidism. It’s unclear whether similar risk factors cause both conditions to occur together, or whether they might directly cause one another.

  • A 2021 article relayed the results of a small yearlong study of 100 participants in India. The 50 participants with migraine were significantly more likely to have a thyroid disorder, and especially low thyroid hormone levels, than the control group, who had nonmigraine headaches.
  • In a 2016 study, researchers followed 8,412 participants for more than 20 years as part of a medical monitoring program. They found people with a history of migraine had a 41 percent increased risk of new onset hypothyroidism. Those with other headache disorders had a 21 percent increased risk.
  • An older 2013 study also examined the relationship between different types of headaches and thyroid disease in 3,727 participants. Results showed that 3 percent of those who reported migraine and 1.6 percent of those with tension headaches also had hypothyroidism. Among this subset of participants, the authors found hypothyroidism occurred after the onset of migraine episodes in the vast majority (96 percent).

The 2013 study concluded hypothyroidism was significantly higher among those with migraine than in the general population. The researchers stated that hypothyroidism should be considered one of “the variety of migraine comorbidities,” even if the full extent of this connection remains unclear.

Certain factors may affect the likelihood that you will develop migraine or hypothyroidism. Some risk factors overlap between both conditions.

Risk factors for migraine

Common risk factors associated with migraine include:

  • Sex. 2018 National Health Interview Survey data cited by the CDC confirms that female people are more than twice as likely to experience headaches and migraine episodes than male people. Scientists believe hormones may play a role in explaining this elevated risk. The above data separated participants into male and female categories only, conflating these with gender. Sex and gender are different, and both occur on a spectrum.
  • Genes. A 2021 review suggests that genetics plays a significant role in whether someone is likely to develop migraine, although the full extent is unclear. Migraine has been associated with certain genes and gene mutations.
  • Smoking. Smoking can increase the risk of a migraine episode.
  • High stress levels. Having a lot of stress, or experiencing a recent stressful event, is among the top triggers for migraine episodes.

Race is also a risk factor. The authors of a 2018 study reviewed 3 national health surveys to identify the frequency and burden of migraine and headaches in the United States. They found that American Indian or Alaska Native people had the highest reported rates of migraine or severe headache in 2015, at over 18 percent.

Learn more about words referring to the Indigenous People of America.

Risk factors for race or ethnicity are often not about biology but the results of an unequal society. Due to prejudice and discrimination about perceived racial characteristics, certain people are treated differently and disadvantaged. This can contribute to risk factors for chronic conditions and affect your ability to access and receive healthcare.

Other risk factors for headache and migraine found in the study included:

  • having a family income of less than $35,000 per year
  • being unemployed
  • being ages 18 to 45
  • being an older, disabled adult

Risk factors for hypothyroidism

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), key risk factors for developing hypothyroidism include:

  • Gender. Women are more likely to develop thyroid issues than men.
  • Age. People over 60 years old are more likely to have thyroid disease.
  • Genes. Having a family history or a previous thyroid problem, such as a goiter, increases the chances that a person will develop hypothyroidism.
  • Past medical treatments. Receiving radiation, radioactive iodine, antithyroid medications, or thyroid surgery can increase your risk of hypothyroidism.
  • Recent pregnancy. Delivering a baby within the past 6 months may increase a person’s risk of hypothyroidism.

A note on gender

Migraine and hypothyroidism can affect anyone, regardless of sex or gender. However, certain hormones can affect risk factors.

Research indicates female people and those assigned female at birth are more likely to experience both migraine and hypothyroidism. However, these risk factors may differ if you are on hormone replacement therapy.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of migraine, hypothyroidism, or both, talk with your doctor. They can help put together a treatment approach that’s individualized to your health needs.

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Recognizing the symptoms of migraine and thyroid disease can help you and your doctor better assess your condition.

Migraine symptoms

Migraine is a primary headache disorder. Primary headaches are when the headache itself is the health condition. Secondary headaches are symptoms of another health condition, such as an injury or illness.

While migraine is considered a type of headache disorder, it isn’t just bad headaches. Migraine is a complex neurological disease that causes many symptoms. A headache is only one of them.

A migraine headache is typically described as an intense, throbbing pain that affects one side of the head at a time.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, other symptoms may include:

A traditional primary headache usually causes aching pain or pressure in the head, face, or upper neck. There are many types of headaches, including cluster headaches and tension headaches.

Hypothyroidism symptoms

Hypothyroidism can be difficult to identify because many of its symptoms look like other health conditions. It’s important to have a thyroid panel ordered by your doctor to check your levels of thyroid hormone, even if you don’t have every symptom.

The NIDDK says some common symptoms of hypothyroidism include:

  • weight gain
  • fatigue
  • joint or muscle pain
  • trouble tolerating cold temperatures
  • thinning or dry hair
  • irregular menstrual cycles
  • fertility issues
  • depression
  • slowed heart rate

Migraine causes

Migraine is influenced by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Migraine episodes are often caused by triggers — exposure to an irritating ingredient, sensation, or environment — which can vary by individual.

Common triggers for migraine episodes include:

Read more about common migraine triggers.

Doctors usually encourage people with migraine to keep a diary of their diet and activities. This can help you identify triggers and avoid them next time.

Hypothyroidism causes

Hypothyroidism occurs because your body’s thyroid doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone.

This can happen for many reasons, according to the NIDDK, including:

While there is no cure for migraine, treatment can help manage symptoms and lower the risk of episodes. Hypothyroidism can be treated with medication that simulates your thyroid’s hormone.

Treatment for migraine

One of the most important things to do when you have a migraine episode is to rest and drink plenty of water. Many people find lying down in a quiet, dark room prevents their pain from worsening due to loud noises or bright lights.

Migraine treatment has two main types of medications: abortive medications and preventive medications.

Abortive medications, also called acute treatments, help manage active migraine symptoms. This category includes:

  • triptan drugs, which come in oral tablets, injections, and nasal sprays
  • gepants and ditans, which are new types of oral medications
  • ergot alkaloids, also known as ergotamines
  • antinausea medications, also known as antiemetics

Preventive medications work to lower your risk of having a migraine episode and reduce symptom severity. Taking preventive measures is also called prophylaxis. This category includes:

Anti-CGRP drugs are a new option used to both prevent and treat migraine episodes. According to 2020 research, these medications target a specific protein known to cause inflammation in the brain, the calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP). Examples approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) include erenumab (Aimovig) and ubrogepant (Ubrelvy).

Migraine treatment can also involve taking over-the-counter pain medications, called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). This includes ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen sodium (Aleve).

Additionally, treatment with brain-stimulating devices, such as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and neuromodulation, may provide relief for people with migraine.

Stress management techniques and talking with a therapist can also be beneficial to people with migraine, especially if the episodes are chronic. Some also prefer home remedies or holistic therapy approaches, including acupuncture or vitamins and supplements.

Treatment for hypothyroidism

A doctor can diagnose hypothyroidism with simple blood tests measuring thyroid hormone T3, thyroid hormone T4, and the thyroid-stimulating hormone, TSH.

Treatment for hypothyroidism involves taking the synthetic thyroid hormone levothyroxine daily. This medication comes in a pill form and can reestablish thyroid hormone levels. It works for people with an underactive thyroid or those who have had their thyroid removed during surgery. You will need to take this medication for your entire life.

Some research suggests that treating hypothyroidism with levothyroxine can also help relieve headaches and migraine episodes. A lot of this research centers on subclinical hypothyroidism. This means your thyroid hormone levels are low, but not low enough for a hypothyroidism diagnosis yet.

  • A small 2021 study of 17 children (average age 11) with subclinical hypothyroidism and migraine found treatment with levothyroxine decreased both the intensity and frequency of participant’s migraine episodes.
  • A 2016 study reported that 73 out of 213 participants with subclinical or overt hypothyroidism experienced headache attributed to hypothyroidism (HAH), and more than half of those people had a history of migraine. After treatment with levothyroxine for around 12 months, 78 percent of those with HAH “reported a decrease” in headache frequency.
  • A 2012 paper reported on a small study of 25 children with migraine and subclinical hypothyroidism in Iran. Researchers found that after 2 months of treatment with levothyroxine, the children experienced a significant decrease (over 50 percent) in monthly migraine episodes.

Interestingly, MedlinePlus reports that headaches can be a common side effect of levothyroxine. People with an overactive thyroid and migraine should watch out for worsening headaches, especially if they take higher doses of the medication.

Migraine and hypothyroidism are two common, chronic conditions. Research suggests that people with migraine are more likely to develop hypothyroidism than the general population, although it’s unclear exactly why.

This means migraine and hypothyroidism are common comorbidities, or co-occurring health conditions, and that migraine may be a risk factor for hypothyroidism.

In some cases, the thyroid treatment levothyroxine may help lessen migraine symptoms. However, high doses of the drug are also associated with increased headaches.

If you experience migraine episodes and are concerned about your risk of hypothyroidism, talk with your doctor. A simple blood test can help check your thyroid health.