Thyroid Disease & Raynaud’s Phenomenon

Every winter it seems I’m affected to a greater degree by the cold temps.  I used to think it was part of the aging process…but for a 38 year old? What I’m talking about today is a bizarre set of symptoms related to low thyroid.  Several years ago is when I first started experiencing bizarre symptoms in my hands and later my feet that I thought was poor circulation. What I later learned was that it was something related to the thyroid.  Raynaud’s phenomenon is very common in people especially women who have Hashimoto’s.  It’s not that you actually have Raynaud’s disease (which is another autoimmune disease) 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 to me.  The first season it happened I thought it was poor circulation (nurses write-off their own symptoms a lot) and then when it went away and happened again two seasons later, I honestly believed that I had another autoimmune disease, since it had a relapsing/remitting pattern.  When I read up on the treatment (steroids to basically shut down the immune system) I really wasn’t interested in doing that.  This was before I was on low-dose naltrexone (LDN).  The symptoms initially affected my hands, mainly from my knuckles to my finger tips…they would react suddenly to something cool that I touched like a glass with ice, cool water, the cold steering wheel, or even by the sensation of a cold breeze across my hands causing them to turn color.  Raynaud’s is also triggered by emotional stress.  If you’ve ever experienced this, you know it isn’t the kind of cold feeling that gloves, socks, a warm bath or a hair dryer can help.  Yes, I actually use to try blowing my cold hands with a hair dryer to warm them up and a heating pad didn’t work either.  The coldness later started affecting my toes for reasons not as obvious as it was with my hands and this was even worse because when it happened, it’s a cycle that once starts is very hard to get out of.  Plus, in my case the 2nd, middle, and 3rd toes would turn red, appear swollen at the tips, “burned” and made it difficult to walk.  It sounds like I’m describing something known as neuropathy, but no….it was definitely Raynaud’s phenomenon.

One of the reasons I scream from the roof tops every fall season to “winterize your thyroid,” is because Raynaud’s phenomenon is a potential problem if you don’t.  Researcher’s are not sure WHY it happens as a result of low thyroid hormone, but what they do know is that there is a link, and they also know the symptoms…cold fingers and/or cold feet disappear when thyroid hormone is optimal but it may take a while.

What this means is that even though your thyroid levels may be optimal for example in October in no way means your levels will remain optimal even though you are taking the same dose of thyroid hormone.  The body doesn’t metabolize thyroid hormone in the colder months the way it does during warmer seasons.  Many of us need to raise our dose by approximately 1/4 the dose prior to winter to maintain the same levels enjoy the same benefits, and hopefully prevent Raynaud’s phenomenon.  Also, vitamin D levels naturally drop during the winter months – so it is absolutely essential that you discuss this with your doctor and make sure your D is not just “in range,” but is optimal.  We Hashi’s girls must have optimal vitamin D levels and most integrative and functional medicine doctors advocate for a level that is somewhere between 70 or 80 to 100.  Even if you are in remission and have no TPO antibodies, Raynaud’s phenomenon can still happen if active thyroid hormone levels drop, or if T3 cannot get inside the cell.   So be sure to review your levels + vitamin D and make adjustments as needed.  What I can tell you is that Raynaud’s always seems to come out of no where…it’s always a sudden unwelcomed surprise, and it can be very painful and distressing.  Again, if you do experience the sudden symptoms of very cold fingers or toes that are very cold, painful and with discoloration, it does not mean you have “Raynaud’s disease” necessarily, especially if you have Hashimoto’s but rather it is a sign of low thyroid hormone.  My message is to not wait until you’re in a “low thyroid” state because by that time it’s too late to get relief once Raynaud-like symptoms take off. Be proactive and have a warm fingers and toes winter.

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” disease – know that your symptoms are likely related to low thyroid especially if you have Hashimoto’s.  Many physicians prescribe drugs like calcium channel blockers, Prozac and antidepressants and you probably don’t want to do that (I know I don’t!).

Blessings!


 

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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