By Celeste Cooper
January is Thyroid Awareness Month.
Since thyroid problems can co-exist with and/or sometimes mimic fibromyalgia, let's explore thyroid dysfunction in people with fibromyalgia.
Is it fibro or thyroid dysfunction?
What are the symptoms of fibromyalgia and hypothyroidism?
Primary symptoms of fibromyalgia:
- Body-wide pain and tenderness
- Cognitive problems
- Non-restorative sleep
Other symptoms or commonly occuring disorders according to the National Fibromyalgia & Chronic Pain Association include:
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- Depression or anxiety
- Migraine or tension headaches
- Digestive problems
- Irritable or overactive bladder
- Pelvic pain
- Raynaud’s (which includes cold intolerance)
- Restless leg syndrome
- Ringing in the ears
- Neurological symptoms
- Skin sensitivities and rashes
- Dry eyes and mouth
- Temporomandibular disorder
Symptoms of hypothyroidism according to endocrineweb.com:
- Weight gain or difficulty losing weight (despite reduced food intake)
- Coarse, dry hair and dry skin
- Hair loss
- Sensitivity to cold
- Muscle cramps and aches
- Memory loss
- Abnormal menstrual cycles
- Decreased libido
- Other symptoms in severe cases
- Headache has also been identified as a risk factor for hypothyroidism
Hypothyroidism can also be related to autoimmune Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. During a Hashimoto’s thyroiditis flare, symptoms may vary between low levels of thyroid hormone (hypo) and high levels of thyroid hormone (hyper), making a diagnosis even more difficult.
Functional medicine vs. conventional medicine
According to Dr. Amy Myers, an estimated 60% of people with thyroid dysfunction don’t know they have it. While most conventional medicine doctors only check thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) and possibly Free T4, she says it is vital that your doctor check six different blood markers: TSH, Free T4, Free T3, Reverse T3, Thyroid Peroxidase Antibodies and Thyroglobulin Antibodies.
In 2011, Dr. Joseph Mercola interviewed the late Dr. John Lowe, a skilled clinician who was recognized as one of the leading experts on treating thyroid disease with natural medicine. He discussed thyroid resistance in which circulating blood thyroid hormone levels are normal, but cells resist utilizing the hormone. This leads to hypothyroidism symptoms, but it is difficult to diagnose when traditional lab tests are normal. And while the Society for Endocrinology now recognizes thyroid resistance does occur, they say it is rare.
“Resistance to thyroid hormone is a genetic condition where some body tissues do not respond normally to thyroid hormones produced by the thyroid gland. It may be associated with no symptoms or with features of both an overactive and underactive thyroid.”
Fibro, thyroid, and science
A 2014 review, Fibromyalgia and chronic widespread pain in autoimmune thyroid disease, reveals "Fibromyalgia and chronic widespread pain syndromes are among the commonest diseases seen in rheumatology practice. Despite advances in the management of these conditions, they remain significant causes of morbidity and disability. Autoimmune thyroid disease is the most prevalent autoimmune disorder, affecting about 10 % of the population, and is a recognized cause of fibromyalgia and chronic widespread pain."
A recent Japanese study, Fibromyalgia Linked to High Prevalence of Anti-TSH Receptor Antibody, made a connection between autoimmune thyroid disease and fibromyalgia. The study needs to be replicated around the world, but it is a place to start and it’s not the first to make a connection between fibromyalgia and the thyroid. in 2012, Bazzichi, L. et al. speculated there is more than a hypothesis regarding the cause-effect relation between thyroid autoimmunity and the presence of FM.
Another recent study found no relationship between TSH levels and fibromyalgia; however, functional medicine physicians have told us looking at the TSH to determine thyroid function is not reliable. Herein lies the quality of a study when one doesn’t look at the whole picture.
Don’t give up
Be persistent with your symptom complaints. I have found Hypothyroid Mom to be a great resource. She stays current and shares information from leading experts, such as New York Times bestselling author Dr. Amy Myers and Dr. Peter Osborne who discusses the role of nutrition and key nutrients like magnesium, B-12, zinc, and more for thyroid function.
Celeste Cooper, RN, is a frequent contributor to ProHealth. She is an advocate, writer and published author, and a person living with chronic pain. Celeste is lead author of Integrative Therapies for Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and Myofascial Pain and Broken Body, Wounded Spirit, and Balancing the See Saw of Chronic Pain (a four book series). She spends her time enjoying her family and the rewards she receives from interacting with nature through her writing and photography. You can learn more about Celeste’s writing, advocacy work, helpful tips, and social network connections at CelesteCooper.com.