Thyroid Disease & Raynaud’s Phenomenon

Every winter I’m affected to a greater degree by cold temperatures.  I used to think it was part of the aging process.   What I’m talking about today is a bizarre set of symptoms related to low thyroid.  Several years ago when I first started experiencing painful symptoms in my hands and later in my feet, I thought it was poor circulation. What I later learned was that it was actually related to thyroid disease.  It turns out that thyroid disease & Raynaud’s phenomenon have a connection.

Raynaud’s phenomenon is common for people who have Hashimoto’s.  It’s not that you actually have Raynaud’s disease necessarily, (which is an autoimmune disease) but rather it’s that you experience “Raynaud-like” symptoms during colder months.  But, why?  I’ll get to that in a second.

My early experiences with Raynaud’s were scary.  The first season it happened I thought it was due to poor circulation and then when the symptoms disappeared and it happened again two seasons later, I honestly believed that I had another autoimmune disease since it had a relapsing/remitting pattern.  

When I studied the treatment (steroids to basically shut down the immune system) I really wasn’t interested in doing steroids but this was before I was on low-dose naltrexone (LDN).  

The symptoms initially affected my hands, mainly from my knuckles to my fingertips.  I can only describe the pain as being similar to that of frostbite and there was also discoloration.  The tips of my fingers would literally turn white. The trigger for Raynaud’s can be anything from cold air to emotional stress.

If you’ve ever experienced these symptoms, you know it isn’t the kind of cold feeling that gloves, socks, a warm bath or a hair dryer can help.  I actually use to try blowing my cold hands with a hair dryer to warm them.  A heating pad didn’t work either. 

The cold and painful sensation later started affecting primarily my toes for reasons not as obvious as it was with my hands and was even worse.  Once the symptoms start it can be challenging to reverse.  In my case, the 2nd, middle, and 3rd toes would turn red, appear swollen at the tips and the frostbite sensation felt more like they’d been burned making it difficult to walk. 

One of the reasons I promote the concept of “winterizing your thyroid,” is because Raynaud’s phenomenon is a potential consequence if you don’t.  Researchers are not sure WHY it happens as a result of low thyroid but what they do know is that there is a connection, and they also know the symptoms of cold fingers and/or cold feet lessen when thyroid hormone is optimal and not simply “in range.”

Even though your thyroid levels may be optimal for example in October doesn’t necessarily mean your levels will remain optimal even though you are taking the same dose of thyroid hormone as you did the previous summer, etc.

The body doesn’t metabolize thyroid hormone during colder months as efficiently as it does during the warmer season.  Many of us may need to raise our dose by approximately 1/4 the dose prior to winter to maintain the same levels and enjoy the same effects.  In addition, vitamin D levels naturally drop during winter months – so it is essential for you to discuss this with your doctor as well to make sure your vitamin D is not just “in range,” but is optimal. 

It’s extremely important to maintain optimal vitamin D levels.  Most integrative and functional medicine doctors advocate for a level that is somewhere between 70 or 90 for people with autoimmune disease including Hashimoto’s.

Even if you are in remission from Hashimoto’s, Raynaud’s phenomenon can still happen particularly if thyroid levels drop.  So be sure to get updated thyroid and vitamin D levels in October or November and make adjustments accordingly.

What I can tell you from personal experience is that Raynaud’s always seems to come out of nowhere and it can be very painful and distressing.  

If for any reason your doctor doesn’t want to order the correct panel for you or your insurance only covers annual testing, you deserve to know what your lab levels are.  This can be done very inexpensively and you will receive your results privately via email!

The Basic Thyroid Panel does not include antibody testing however it’s really all you need to assess thyroid levels for determining dosage.  The Hydroxy Vitamin D panel assesses D2 and D3 is valuable for determining what your correct daily dosage should be.

Additional tips:

  • Avoid the emotional and physiological effects of stress caused by low sunlight and cold weather by practicing regular daily activities like meditation, journaling, prayer, gentle exercise, and taking naps.
  • Always protect your hands and feet by keeping them warm. Have gloves with you at all times just in case.
  • Apply ginger essential oil diluted with fractionated coconut oil to hands and feet as often as desired.  Ginger is also an excellent oil to add to a bath of warm Epsom salts. It’s very warming and a little goes a long way.
  • Avoid showers/baths that are too hot – this really only makes symptoms worse.
  • Don’t assume that you actually have “Raynaud’s” autoimmune disease – know that your symptoms may be related to low thyroid especially if you have Hashimoto’s.  Many conventional physicians will prescribe drugs like calcium channel blockers, Prozac, antidepressants, and steroids.  It’s important to consider the risks and benefits.
  • Supplement with an oral high-potency vitamin D product.  This one is highly absorbable and is the one I personally use and recommend to people with Hashimoto’s.  

 

References:

Shagan BP, Friedman SA. Raynaud’s phenomenon and thyroid deficiency. Arch Intern Med 1980 Jun;140(6):832-3.
Shomon, M. (2014). Cold Hands, Cold Feet, Sluggish Thyroid? Raynaud’s Syndrome in Thyroid Patients.

 

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