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Originally published on 14th April 2016 Last updated on 27th February 2019
Cold intolerance is often related to thyroid function i.e. hypothyroidism.
What is Cold Intolerance?
Cold intolerance is defined as feeling very sensitive to cold temperatures and it is more severe than the normal feeling most people get when they are feeling cold. So, if you have it, you probably feel too cold when everyone else feels ‘just right’ or even too warm.
Ever find yourself layering up when others aren’t?
The Thyroid Connection
As the main purpose of thyroid hormones is to run the metabolism, people with an underactive thyroid or hypothyroidism (and often not optimally treated) may have symptoms associated with a slow metabolism, such as cold intolerance.
The thyroid gland has to be functioning properly to burn calories and create heat and fuel. This is your metabolism. Creating heat and fuel is obviously very important, in particular for your body heat and energy level.
The hypothalamus, located in the brain, regulates our body temperature by speaking to the pituitary gland, which in turn tells the thyroid gland (via TSH) to increase or decrease the amount of thyroid hormones it is producing, which manages our metabolism. The two main hormones your thyroid produces, T3 and T4, are important in this process.
If there is a problem with this sequence, e.g. too little or too much thyroid hormone is being produced, our metabolism being affected can result in cold or heat intolerance.
Feeling cold intolerance increases your body’s need for more thyroid hormones, which can make you feel more hypothyroid. Which is why you may have increased hypothyroidism symptoms when exposed to the cold, such as fatigue and brain fog.
This can cause your TSH level to rise and your Free T4 and Free T3 levels to drop.
If you are often colder than those around you, you should check your thyroid function. Cold intolerance is not an illness, it is a symptom of an underlying condition, such as poorly treated hypothyroidism. Most people seem to feel best with optimal thyroid levels, as opposed to just being ‘within range’, so getting your thyroid levels optimised could really help improve cold intolerance.
People with normal thyroid function can produce more thyroid hormones to generate more heat. Those who rely on daily thyroid medication can’t do this. So some thyroid patients find they need to increase their thyroid medication dosage slightly at colder times of the year (though this should always be done by a doctor, not by yourself).
Have you experienced cold intolerance with hypothyroidism?
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Rachel Hill is the highly ranked and multi-award winning thyroid patient advocate, writer, speaker and author behind The Invisible Hypothyroidism. Her thyroid advocacy work includes writing articles, authoring books, producing her Thyroid Family email newsletters and speaking on podcasts, as well as being a founding board member for the American College of Thyroidology. She is well-recognised as a crucial and influential contributor to the thyroid community and has a large social media presence. Her books include “Be Your Own Thyroid Advocate” and “You, Me and Hypothyroidism”.