Can hypothyroidism cause peripheral neuropathy and, if so, how is it treated?
Answer From Todd B. Nippoldt, M.D.
Hypothyroidism is a condition in which your thyroid gland doesn't produce enough thyroid hormone. It's an uncommon but possible cause of peripheral neuropathy.
Peripheral neuropathy is damage to your peripheral nerves. These nerves carry information to and from your brain and spinal cord (central nervous system) and the rest of your body, such as your arms and legs.
Severe, long-term, untreated hypothyroidism can cause peripheral neuropathy. Although the association between hypothyroidism and peripheral neuropathy isn't fully understood, it's known that hypothyroidism can cause fluid retention resulting in swollen tissues. This can put pressure on peripheral nerves.
This most commonly occurs in the wrists. The nerve responsible for hand function goes through a "tunnel" of soft tissue. This soft tissue can swell and press on the nerve, resulting in carpal tunnel syndrome. Most cases of carpal tunnel syndrome are not due to hypothyroidism.
Signs and symptoms of peripheral neuropathy may include pain, a burning sensation, or loss of sensation and tingling in the area affected by the nerve damage. It may also cause muscle weakness or loss of muscle control.
See your doctor if you know or suspect you have hypothyroidism and you're having troubling or painful symptoms in your limbs.
Treatment of peripheral neuropathy due to hypothyroidism is directed at managing the underlying hypothyroidism and treating the resulting symptoms. This may include:
- Levothyroxine (Synthroid, Unithroid, others), which is a medication for hypothyroidism that often improves the symptoms of neuropathy
- Exercising and maintaining a healthy weight, which can help minimize stress on your body as well as strengthen affected limbs
March 15, 2022
- Azhary H, et al. Peripheral neuropathy: Differential diagnosis and management. American Family Physician. 2010;81:887.
- Peripheral neuropathy fact sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Peripheral-Neuropathy-Fact-Sheet. Accessed Feb. 15, 2022.
- Rubin DI. Neurologic manifestations of hypothyroidism. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed Feb. 15, 2022.
- Nippoldt TB (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic. Feb. 17, 2022.