You may be wondering if your hypothyroidism is causing your IBS. It is only natural to feel there may be a link.
Many of the symptoms of having an under active thyroid are similar to IBS. You may notice that your IBS symptoms improve as your thyroid levels are treated.
In this post I am going to look at how your thyroid may be affecting your IBS and what you can do about it.
Table of Contents
What Is Hypothyroidism?
Hypothyroidism occurs when you have an under-active thyroid. This means you body is unable to produce enough of a hormone called thyroxine.
This condition affects 4 people in every 100 (1).
What Are The Symptoms of Hypothyroidism?
Some symptoms of hypothyroidism are similar to IBS. You may not realise you have this condition.
Just like IBS, thyroid problems can often start mild and worsen over time.
Common symptoms of hypothyroidism are (2);
- Cold sensitivity
- Weight gain
- Low mood
- Slow movements and thoughts
- Muscle aches and weakness
- Muscle cramps
- Dry and scaly skin
- Brittle hair and nails
- Loss of sex drive
Pain, numbness and a tingling sensation in the hand and fingers
If you are experiencing these symptoms then please see your family medicine doctor.
Can Hypothyroidism Cause IBS?
Many hypothyroidism symptoms are similar to IBS. But there is no evidence that having an under active thyroid will actually cause IBS.
Instead, having a reduced amount of thyroxine in your body is likely to worsen your digestive symptoms.
How Does Hypothyroidism Affect IBS?
So hypothyroidism doesn’t actually cause IBS, but it will worsen it.
Firstly, it will cause your gastric emptying time to slow down (3, 4).
This can lead to symptoms such as;
- Stomach distension
- Acid reflux
You may also notice that you struggle with constipation. This is because hypothyroidism will reduce your stool frequency (6).
Lastly, you may not actually have IBS at all. One study showed that 54% those with hypothyroidism had small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) (5).
You can read more about SIBO here.
How To Improve Your Hypothyroidism For IBS
Firstly, you need to go to your doctor to ensure you get an accurate diagnosis. Some people will also require long-term medication (7).
It is important that you include many iodine rich foods in your diet. Iodine helps your body to produce thryoxine and balance out your thyroid.
Foods high in iodine are;
- Fortified plant milks
You need to be particularly careful if you are vegan as your diet will contain limited amounts of iodine. You may therefore need a supplement.
Other than this, it is important to optimise your bowel transit time.
This means eating high fibre foods and staying hydrated to help your bowel move regularly.
You should be eating 30g of fibre / day. You can read more about this here.
Hypothyroidism does not cause IBS but it can make symptoms worse.
It is important to go to the doctor and get the correct diagnosis and medical management. You can also make small changes in your diet to help balance out your symptoms.
Kirsten Jackson is a UK registered Consultant Gastroenterology Dietitian and founder of The Food Treatment Clinic. She has undergone many qualifications to get where she is today, including a UK BSc Honours Degree in Dietetics and Post-Graduate Certificate in Advanced Dietetics. In addition to this, she has FODMAP Training from Kings College London University. Kirsten set up The Food Treatment Clinic in 2015 after first experiencing digestive problems herself. She felt that the NHS was unable to provide the support individuals needed and went on to specialise in this area before opening a bespoke IBS service. Kirsten also participates in charity work as an Expert Advisor for the IBS Network. In addition, she can be seen in publications such as Cosmopolitan and The Telegraph discussing IBS as an Official Media Spokesperson to the IBS Network.
Gillian Elliott says
Wow! I’m absolutely shocked at this! I’ve been living with ans under active gland for years! (At least 10) Never ever have I been told what all the side effects can be, I was diagnosed because I had put on so much weight and was always cold! I have never even been told what’s best to eat or what’s best to avoid! And every now and again (at least twice a week) I have severe tummy cramps which then leads to couple of days with extremely loose stools! And I also put weight on so very easily but never seem to loose it, Thanku so much for this Kirsten!
Kirsten Jackson Specialist Dietitian says
You are very welcome. Be sure to get regular check ups with this. If your thyroxine levels are in a good range then it shouldn’t be an issue.