Medically reviewed by
Dr. Natalie Bessom, D.O. Board-certified family medicine doctor with specialty training in nutrition, USA
Learn how your thyroid function affects your heat regulation, and the steps you can take to manage cold intolerance.
The thyroid is a small gland found at the base of your neck, and it is responsible for balancing the hormones that control your bodily functions. Among these functions is the regulation of body heat, and your perception of ‘cold’.
Your thyroid produces hormones that regulate metabolism and burn calories to keep your body temperature at a comfortable level.
Individuals with thyroid conditions, particularly hypothyroidism, have underactive thyroids that are unable to produce sufficient hormones. Their bodies are unable to burn calories or ‘produce heat’ normally. Thus, many experience extreme sensitivity to cold temperatures, a symptom known as cold intolerance.
This article discusses:
- The role of your thyroid in regulating body heat
- The impact of thyroid conditions on cold intolerance
- Other health factors that can contribute to cold intolerance
- Some suggestions on how to mitigate cold intolerance
The Role of Your Thyroid In Body Temperature Regulation
The thyroid is one of several players in regulating body temperature. Body heat regulation begins in the hypothalamus, a small structure within the brain.
Also known as ‘The Body’s Thermostat’, the hypothalamus is responsible for coordinating homeostasis, which corresponds to the body’s steady state. It interprets internal cues such as rising blood pressure or hunger to activate the appropriate bodily responses.
One of the functions it performs is sending signals to the thyroid to increase or decrease body temperature. The thyroid’s mechanism of heat regulation is the production of two main hormones:
- Thyroxine (T4), a biologically inactive hormone that is converted into
- Triiodothyronine (T3), the active form.
These hormones control metabolism (the consumption of energy within the body) by directing the breakdown of fat and carbohydrates throughout the body to produce heat. In doing so, the thyroid is largely responsible for the maintenance of normal body temperature.
How Thyroid Conditions Can Lead to Cold Intolerance
Individuals who have abnormal thyroid hormone production are unable to regulate their temperature due to low levels of T3 and T4. Consequently, they are often much more sensitive to cold or even temperate environments.
Some thyroid conditions that lead to hypothyroidism, or the underproduction of thyroid hormones, include:
- Thyroiditis, or an inflamed thyroid gland
- Medications that interfere with thyroid function, such lithium, antiepileptic medications as well as cancer treatments
- Hashimoto’s Disease, an autoimmune disease that targets the thyroid and
- Thyroidectomy, or the removal of the thyroid gland.
Cold intolerance is a hallmark symptom of hypothyroidism and is an important indicator for diagnosis. One study shows that a low body temperature is even highly correlated with other symptoms of hypothyroidism, particularly headaches and migraines.
Other Health Factors Impacting Cold Intolerance
Aside from being a symptom of hypothyroidism, cold intolerance can also result from various other conditions including:
- Anemia, or the shortage of healthy red blood cells within the body
- Anorexia, an eating disorder that results in low body mass and a lack of adequate body fat
- Fibromyalgia, a chronic condition wherein pain signals are not properly processed and
- Vascular conditions which affect the flow and distribution of blood.
Studies show that having one or more of these conditions may exacerbate your cold intolerance, so it is important to follow up with your doctor and find out how your overall health complements your thyroid condition.
In addition to this, research has shown that medications commonly prescribed to treat other health concerns such as lithium, antiepileptic medications as well as cancer treatment can interfere with thyroid function. These may reduce thyroid output and lead to hypothyroidism.
Tips for Managing Cold Intolerance
Bundling Up Outdoors and Indoors
It is prudent to always dress for the weather. In instances of extreme outdoor weather, consider staying indoors, or bundling up with hats, scarves and mitts, when necessary and wherever possible.
Sensitivity to the cold can also make indoor temperatures intolerable. A study indicated that hypothyroidism is associated with insomnia, which can be brought on by environmental factors such as temperatures that are too low.
Here are some steps you can take inside your home to stay warm:
- Turn up your home temperature at night to stay comfortable
- Wear warm pajamas and use blankets to keep you body warm
- Use heating pads and bottles to warm up your bed
- Soak your hands and feet in warm water to prevent excessive chilliness in your extremities
Keeping Up with Your Medication
Addressing your hypothyroidism is one of the most important steps to managing cold intolerance. Thyroid hormone replacement therapy such as synthetic thyroid hormone is often prescribed to hypothyroidism patients, which also often corrects symptoms of cold intolerance.
If you have any thyroid medication prescribed to you, it is important to take it promptly according to your prescribed schedule in order to avoid dips in your basal body temperature.
Consult your Doctor
As outlined above, cold intolerance can result from numerous health perturbations. Therefore, it is important to identify exactly what its causes are in order to receive preventative and appropriate treatment.
If you experience extreme sensitivity to cold temperatures, please consult your primary care provider or an endocrinologist for more information on how to manage your symptoms.
- The thyroid is a small gland found at the base of your neck, and it is responsible for balancing the hormones that control your bodily functions.
- Your thyroid produces hormones that regulate metabolism and burn calories to keep your body temperature at a comfortable level.
- Individuals with thyroid conditions, particularly hypothyroidism, have underactive thyroids that are unable to produce sufficient hormones, and thus experience cold intolerance.
- Studies show that a low body temperature is even highly correlated with other symptoms of hypothyroidism, particularly headaches and migraines.
- Having other health issues such as anemia, anorexia, fibromyalgia or vascular conditions may exacerbate your cold intolerance.
- Some ways to mitigate cold intolerance include bundling up indoors and outdoors, staying on top of your medication as well as consulting your doctor regarding your symptoms.
By helping you track your diet, your medications as well as your symptoms, the ThyForLife Health app can assist you in managing your thyroid condition and understanding how your lifestyle impacts your health.
At ThyForLife, we do our utmost to provide accurate information. If you require more detailed information regarding medical terms, conditions, and practices please consult your healthcare professional. Always listen to the advice of your healthcare provider