The Relationship Between Chronic Hives and Your Thyroid
Hives are a common skin condition. Hives typically look like red, itchy bumps on the skin. But some people experience chronic hives (urticaria). These are hives that come back often and last longer than 6 weeks.1
There is still a lot that we do not understand about the causes of chronic hives. For some people, the hives can be a reaction to allergens or triggers such as:1
- Heat or cold
But other people's chronic hives may be caused by another illness. One condition that is linked to chronic hives is thyroid disease. Specifically, a group of diseases called thyroid autoimmune conditions are linked to hives.2-4
What are thyroid autoimmune conditions?
An autoimmune condition is caused by an overactive immune system. Our immune systems are responsible for keeping us safe from germs and illness. But some people's immune systems are too active. An overactive immune system will attack the body’s own cells.5
The thyroid is a small organ in the neck. Its job is to make and control the level of thyroid hormones in the body. These hormones have important jobs in the body such as regulating metabolism. Metabolism is the body's process for converting food to energy.5
In thyroid autoimmune conditions, the immune system mistakenly attacks the thyroid. This makes it harder for the thyroid to do its job. These conditions can cause symptoms such as:5
- Weight gain
- Feeling cold
- Joint stiffness and pain
- Hair loss
- Difficulty having bowel movements
- Heavy or irregular menstrual periods
What is the link between hives and the thyroid?
There are 2 main types of thyroid conditions: hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism. In hyperthyroidism, the thyroid is overactive and produces too many hormones. In hypothyroidism, the thyroid does not produce enough hormones.3,5
Research indicates that people with hyperthyroidism are more likely to have chronic hives. There is one type of hyperthyroidism that seems more strongly linked to chronic hives. It is an autoimmune condition called Hashimoto's disease.3,5Doctors do not fully understand the link between the thyroid and chronic hives yet. But they recognize that there is a relationship. One study found that about 1 in 4 people with chronic hives may have a thyroid autoimmune disease.2,4
Another study found that people with chronic hives were more likely to have increased levels of antithyroid antibodies. Antibodies are proteins that the immune system uses to recognize substances it should attack. Antithyroid antibodies tell the immune system to attack the thyroid specifically.3
There is an idea being tested that an infection can cause both hives and thyroid autoimmune conditions. But the idea is still not proven. Research has shown a potential link between infections – such as staph (Staphylococcus bacteria) or hepatitis C – and hives. These infections are also known to trigger the thyroid autoimmune reaction.4
What does this link mean for people with chronic hives?
Even though this link is not fully understood, it may still help people with chronic hives. If you have chronic hives and suspect you may have a thyroid condition, talk with your doctor. Properly diagnosing any underlying conditions may be able to improve the treatment for chronic hives. Some studies have shown that giving thyroid medicine and allergy medicine together can relieve hive symptoms for people with high antithyroid antibodies.2,4
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