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

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

From Mayo Clinic to your inbox

Sign up for free, and stay up to date on research advancements, health tips and current health topics, like COVID-19, plus expertise on managing health.

To provide you with the most relevant and helpful information, and understand which information is beneficial, we may combine your email and website usage information with other information we have about you. If you are a Mayo Clinic patient, this could include protected health information. If we combine this information with your protected health information, we will treat all of that information as protected health information and will only use or disclose that information as set forth in our notice of privacy practices. You may opt-out of email communications at any time by clicking on the unsubscribe link in the e-mail.

March 15, 2022 See more Expert Answers