Anxiety and depression are two conditions that appear to be running rampant in our fast-paced modern world. These debilitating disorders can have long-lasting impact on one’s life both mentally and physically. Often, the two disorders are dismissed and not respected as true medical concerns. Therefore, finding proper treatment can be incredibly difficult and frustrating. Sometimes there are additional factors that must be resolved to treat these ailments. Conditions such as thyroid disorders, which also frequently go undiagnosed and poorly treated, can contribute to anxiety and depression. To truly care for and protect one’s mental and physical health from the ravages of mood disrupting diseases, one may need to take a closer look at their thyroid.
Linking Anxiety, Depression, and the Thyroid
Thyroid dysfunction can cause symptoms that are easily misconstrued as other disorders. Unfortunately, because symptoms are generally non-specific they are often disregarded or overlooked by medical practitioners. Hormonal shifts and imbalances caused by thyroid issues can also have a direct impact on the development of anxiety and depression. The American Thyroid Association states that 12 percent of Americans will develop a thyroid condition and an estimated 20 million already have some degree of dysfunction. Furthermore, experts believe that up to 60% of this group are unaware of their condition. Therefore, it is not surprising that many people complain of symptoms associated with all three conditions including panic attacks, rapid weight loss, inability to lose weight, insomnia, apathy, nervousness and many others. Unfortunately, these symptoms are often attributed incorrectly to the following conditions:
- Panic disorders
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
- Bipolar disorder
- Eating disorders
- Sleep disorders
- And others
Improper Treatment of Thyroid-Related Symptoms
Sadly, thyroid conditions are regularly overlooked as a possible cause or contributor to anxiety. The occurrence of anxiety is greatly increased in those with thyroid dysfunction. Lack of respect for this association coupled with poor diagnosis leads to improper treatment of underlying causes of mood disorders.
In response to anxiety and depression, doctors usually prescribe a range of drugs that may help in the short term but ultimately cause greater disruption. Generally, these medications include a variety of mood stabilizers, antidepressants, and sedatives including:
- Beta blockers
- And others
If one’s condition is caused by a thyroid disorder, these medications do little to improve their health. This means that patients treated with medications such as those listed above may experience the possibly severe side effect associated with them without getting any better. Appropriately treating the thyroid may be critical in resolving anxiety and depression. Multiple studies have shown that up to one-third of those who do not experience relief of their symptoms with mood regulators and antidepressants report significant improvement after beginning treatment with Cytomel. This medication includes the active thyroid hormone T3 and can help improve thyroid function as well as mood.
Thyroid Conditions and Anxiety
Thyroid disorders come in a variety of forms. Depending on the disorder, one may experience significantly increased or severely reduced thyroid function. Both extremes have their own impact on anxiety and influence the body in different ways.
An overactive thyroid, also known as hyperthyroidism, causes numerous bodily systems to enter a hyperactive state. This can lead to the development of symptoms that are easily misconstrued as being caused by anxiety or depression. Some of these symptoms include:
- Increased heart rate
- High blood pressure
- Loss of menstrual period
- Reduced appetite
- Rapid weight loss
Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disorder and is the leading cause of hyperthyroidism. This condition causes the body to overly produce thyroid antibodies, which increases thyroid hormone production. This significantly speeds up metabolism, which accelerates other bodily functions. Hyperthyroidism may also be caused by a multinodular goiter. This growth causes excess release of thyroid hormone further contributing to over activity. Without recognizing the presence of these conditions, one may suffer from symptoms of anxiety that are truly caused by thyroid malfunction or autoimmune disorders like Graves’ disease.
Alternatively, hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroid, can also cause anxiety and depression. This condition has the opposite effect as hyperthyroidism and causes the body to slow down. This causes another selection of confusing symptoms that are often misdiagnosed as depression or anxiety. Symptoms include:
- Low blood pressure
- Weight gain
- Reduced cognitive function
- Slowed reflexes
- Reduced libido
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is an autoimmune condition that has significant impact on thyroid function. This disorder slowly attacks the thyroid, ultimately resulting in inhibited function. However, during this thyroidal destruction, one may experience temporary surges of thyroid hormones inducing transient hyperthyroidism, also known as thyrotoxicosis or Hashitoxicosis. After the body has managed to quell this influx of hormones, it falls into a state of longstanding hypothyroidism promoting the occurrence of anxiety and depression.
A study conducted in 2004 found that an increased presence of thyroid peroxidase antibodies (TPO) was linked to an increased occurrence of anxiety and other mood disorders. The researchers posit that because TPO promotes a sudden rush of thyroid hormones, much like that seen in Hashimoto’s, if levels aggressively rise, one is more likely to experience transient hyperthyroidism. This can promote symptoms associated with anxiety and depression.
Identifying the Cause of Anxiety
Diagnosing the cause of one’s condition is critical in acquiring proper treatment. If one believes that their mood disorder is being caused by thyroid malfunction, the following areas should be tested and analyzed:
- Family and personal medical history
- Examination of the thyroid for palpitations, lumps, and enlargement
- Reflex test (hyper-reflexivity or jumpiness may suggest hyperthyroidism)
- TSH, Free T4, Free T3, and Reverse T3 blood tests
- Thyroid antibody tests including thyroid peroxidase (TPO) and thyroid stimulating immunoglobulins (TSI)
By disproving or verifying the presence of a thyroid condition, the individual is one step closer to fully treating their mood disorder. It is important to rule out thyroid dysfunction before committing to treatment with antidepressants and other mood regulating medications as they can cause intense side effects without resolving other possible contributors. Improving thyroid dysfunction may not only improve mental health but improve overall well-being as well.