Summer is on its way — bringing hot, sunny days. For heat-intolerant people with lupus, this also brings the risk of overheating.
Heat intolerance refers to when an individual feels unbearably hot, most commonly when the temperature around you rises. Heat intolerance is a common issue for autoimmune disease patients.
Nitric Oxide, Lupus, and Overheating
Individuals who have heat intolerance in addition to an autoimmune condition have been found to have elevated levels of nitric oxide in the body. Naturally occurring nitric oxide in the body, such as endogenous nitric oxide, works as an agent to widen blood vessels.
This widening of the blood vessels (known as vasodilation) also occurs when the body’s core temperature increases. Vasodilation causes more heat to be carried by the blood to the skin, where it can be lost to the air.
When the body begins vasodilation for #LupusWarriors, too much heat is transferred blood-to-skin in an accelerated amount of time causing overheating. It’s very common for #LupusWarriors to be in a warmer setting and unexpectedly experience an intense overheating episode.
Hyperthyroidism and Lupus
Located in the neck area, the thyroid is a butterfly-shaped organ responsible for regulating the metabolism and releasing hormones. It plays an essential role during puberty—(think of all the significant hormonal changes during that time).
The metabolism and core body temperature are undoubtedly linked. A 2009 study at the Transactions of the American Clinical and Climatological Association reports that an increase in body temperature is associated with a higher metabolic rate, and higher body temperatures do speed up metabolism. In this way, an overactive thyroid might cause intense overheating episodes.
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Thyroid disease is a blanket term that can be used to describe a number of conditions. The most common subsets of thyroid disease are:
- Thyroid nodules
- A lump in the thyroid
- A condition in which the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone
- The overproduction of a hormone
- Abnormal enlargement of the gland below the Adam’s apple
- Inflammation of the thyroid
- Thyroid cancer
- Cancer of the thyroid
Any of these thyroid conditions can have a significant impact on the metabolism, hormones, and body temperature.
Comorbidity of Hyperthyroidism and Lupus
Typically an under-active thyroid produces symptoms that are very similar to lupus: i.e.; fatigue, dryness, weakness, hair loss, etc. However, an overactive thyroid—or hyperthyroidism—causes symptoms such as skin rash and dizziness which #LupusWarriors experience, too.
More #LupusWarriors experience underactive thyroid disease. But, there needs to be more attention on the overlap between thyroid disease and lupus. Per the study “Prevalence of thyroid dysfunction in systemic lupus erythematosus“, there is much more to be discovered regarding the comorbidity of thyroid issues and lupus. The medical researchers’ recommendation from this study is that SLE patients should routinely be checked for autoimmune thyroid disease.
Menopause and Lupus
Another culprit for heat intolerance is menopause. Women experience this natural part of life usually in their 40’s and 50’s. Hormone levels drastically deplete causing significant symptoms and changes within the body.
Menopausal Symptoms and Lupus
Low levels of progesterone are linked to hot flashes, although other hormonal changes might cause night sweats or hot flashes as well. Sometimes hot flashes and night sweats just interrupt sleep. Other times, they can negatively and severely affect the quality of life.
Lupus does not intensify hot flashes or night sweats. The overall heat intolerant nature of #LupusWarriors can compound with hot flashes causing much distress. Lupus also does not cause too many irregularities with menopause, but there have been cases of early perimenopause and/or menopause in #LupusWarriors.
The most important thing to do to distinguish what exactly is the cause of overheating, is to talk with your lupus treatment team. That way the medical team can investigate properly and find solutions. Regarding menopause, there are abundant resources out there for women who experience hot flashes and night sweats from these hormonal changes.
Hot flashes, overheating, and intense sweating episodes are challenging and exhausting. Staying calm and talking to a medical provider about symptoms will help streamline treatment and bring comfort…hang in there.