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Could hypothyroidism be the cause of your peripheral neuropathy?

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Peripheral neuropathy could have a surprising cause: severe, long-term, untreated hypothyroidism.

Hypothyroidism develops when your thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone, and it can be an uncommon cause of damage to your peripheral nerves. Your peripheral nerves carry information to and from your brain and spinal cord and the rest of your body, including your arms and legs.

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 that exert pressure on peripheral nerves.

This commonly occurs in the wrists because the nerve serving the hands goes through a “tunnel” of soft tissue, which can swell, pressing on the nerve and resulting in carpal tunnel syndrome. While the vast majority of carpal tunnel syndrome cases are not due to hypothyroidism, it can occur.

Signs and symptoms of peripheral neuropathy may include pain, a burning sensation, or numbness 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
This article originally appeared on MayoClinic.org.

Todd B. Nippoldt, MD

Dr. Nippoldt is an endocrinologist at Mayo Clinic Health System in Rochester, Minnesota.

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