As the winter months come rolling in, we are greeted with snuggling by the fire, family gatherings, and holiday cheer. However, for many of us this season is also accompanied by the difficulties of navigating the ups and downs of a complex condition.

This is because colder weather can put further strain on those dealing with conditions such as hypothyroidism, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), seasonal affective disorder, and rheumatoid arthritis.


A key function of your thyroid gland is “thermoregulation” — the regulation and maintenance of the body’s temperature. When temperatures dip, your thyroid has to do extra duty to help maintain your body temperature.

For those who are hypothyroid, you may notice that if you stay on a steady dose of thyroid hormone replacement medication during colder months, you may feel somewhat more hypothyroid. Some physicians routinely recommend that their hypothyroid patients raise their medication dosage slightly during colder months and drop back down to a lower dose during warmer temperatures.

If you notice hypothyroidism symptoms becoming more troublesome during colder weather, you may want to ask your doctor about a seasonal dosage adjustment.

Learn more about hypothyroidism and the cold here

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Many CFS sufferers often complain about the worsening of symptoms during the cold weather season. The cold seems to get into their bones and make everything tighten up and ache, making the winter months seem like a real battle. Getting chilled is a problem for a couple of reasons: first, you can have a hard time warming up; second, it can lead to flares of other symptoms.

This is because most CFS sufferers have adrenal and thyroid problemsLow adrenal function can actually cause someone’s thyroid problem to be much worse than it would be otherwise. And a very common symptom of an underactive thyroid gland is sensitivity to cold.

Many researchers believe disorders like CFS involve a dysregulation of the autonomic nervous system (ANS), called dysautonomia. The ANS controls our homeostasis and keeps things like our heart rate, digestion, and body temperature within normal parameters. In dysautonomia, these automatic functions can be askew, and in many CFS patients, that’s highly apparent in their body temperature.

When a healthy person’s feet get cold, for example, the autonomic nervous system kicks into action, re-directing the flow of blood to warm up the area. As long as the situation isn’t extreme, the body should be able to overcome the effect of the environment.

Because of dysautonomia, though, when someone with CFS gets chilled feet, the body isn’t able to adapt properly, so the feet stay cold. Even putting on thick socks may not help warm up the feet. The environment has a greater impact on the body.

Learn more here

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is primarily caused by the lack of light many experience in the winter months but the cold can still worsen this condition.

It is important to note that although it is uncertain what truly causes SAD, it has a strong association with reduced exposure to sunlight. Data shows that SAD is least common near the equator and increasingly common as one moves farther away from it.

Furthermore, the American Psychiatric Association has related SAD to biochemical imbalances in the brain that are triggered by reduced sunlight. Melatonin, which needs sunlight to function properly, plays a role in sleep quality and may also impact SAD occurrence. Reduced sunlight also negatively impacts serotonin levels, which aids in mood regulation. Deficiency in these areas is frequently found among those with SAD.

It is estimated half a million Americans suffer from SAD. This condition shares many symptoms with classic depression and often causes:

  • Fatigue
  • Malaise or disinterest in one’s normal activities
  • Avoiding social interaction
  • Weight gain
  • Increased craving of carbohydrates

Experts hypothesize that all of these symptoms can be worsened by the cold weather associated with the winter months as well.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Although it is commonly reported by those with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) experience worsened symptoms during the winter months, experts are not exactly sure why.

Theories include:

  • Low temperatures may cause the thickening of joint fluids, making joints stiffer and difficult to move.
  • Patients may be less active in the winter, which can worsen symptoms.
  • Patients who are significantly impacted mentally by the colder weather and shorter days may experience worsened moods, the stress of which can, in turn, lead to heightened symptoms.
  • The changes in barometric pressure during a cold front cause the tendons, muscles, bones, and scar tissues to contract and expand. This causes pain in the tissues that arthritis affects.

However, based on recent studies, it seems such RA flare-ups may be due to both the cold and seasonal changes. A 2019 study of over 12,000 RA patients concluded that symptom flares in the small joints of the hands and feet occurred most often in the spring, then in the winter. Seasonal changes seem to have less of an impact on the larger joints.

Unfortunately, for now, there is no scientific consensus on the exact link between cold weather and RA flare-ups but it is considered common for people to report that their pain and arthritis symptoms worsen during periods of cold, rain, and low atmospheric pressure.

Final Thought

If you are concerned about how the cold may affect your condition in the upcoming months, contact a member of Holtorf Medical Group today.

At Holtorf Medical Group we strive to uncover the root cause of symptoms. We will work with you to not just treat the symptoms, but treat the underlying illness. Contact us today to see how we can help you!

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