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Could Your Thyroid Cause Anxiety and Depression?

November 20, 2019 Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC

If you experience anxiety or depression, your thyroid could be part of the cause. Place your hand gently on your throat and notice the feel of a tube (that's your trachea, also known as a windpipe). Now, close your eyes and picture a small butterfly perched across the front of the trachea. That's your thyroid, an imperceptible yet powerful gland that plays a big role in your body's functioning, including, possibly, anxiety and depression. While research studies thus far have found mixed results regarding the thyroid's role in mental health, there is enough evidence linking thyroid functioning to anxiety and depressive disorders to consider your thyroid as a possible cause of anxiety or depression.

How the Thyroid Keeps Us Functioning

The thyroid plays an important role in our physical health, and more and more, it appears that the thyroid also impacts mental health, including anxiety and depression. The major tasks of this two-inch gland include regulating:

  • Metabolism, which is the rate at which every cell in the body turns the nutrients from the food you eat into fuel (energy)
  • Body temperature
  • Heart rate
  • How deep your breathing is when you're not trying to influence it
  • Cholesterol levels
  • Aspects of the menstrual cycle

As far as medical science knows, the thyroid doesn't regulate our mood or how anxious we feel. Depression, anxiety, and the thyroid forge their connection when things start to go wrong with the thyroid. 

When Things Go Wrong: Thyroid, Anxiety, and Depression

Like every other part of the human body, the thyroid can develop problems. Thyroid diseases include hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism. In hypothyroidism, the gland becomes underactive, producing too little thyroid hormone. Hyperthyroidism is the opposite and involves the production of too much hormone. 

Thyroid conditions aren't rare. According to Harvard Medical School, approximately 13 million Americans live with a thyroid disorder.1 Associated anxiety and depression aren't rare, either; indeed, some studies have found that over 20 percent of people with hypothyroidism have depression and anywhere from 30 to over 60 percent (depending on the study) have anxiety.2   

Is Your Thyroid the Cause of Your Anxiety, Depression?

If you are living with anxiety or depression, how do you know if your thyroid is the cause? A good first step is to listen to your body. In addition to your symptoms of depression or your anxiety symptoms, what is going on that is out of the ordinary and interfering in your ability to live your life as you've been accustomed to in the past? 

Next, get specific. Do you have any of the following symptoms of a thyroid condition?3 (Note that these are partial lists and that thyroid symptoms can vary depending on the cause of the problem.) 

Symptoms of hyperthyroidism might include:

  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Sweating
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Heart palpitations and/or a racing heart
  • Heat intolerance
  • Shakiness
  • Agitation
  • Vision changes
  • Light menstrual periods
  • More frequent bowel movements

In contrast, hypothyroidism symptoms may involve:

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Intolerance of the cold
  • Body aches
  • Weight gain
  • Goiter (swollen thyroid visible as a lump on the neck)
  • Hair loss
  • Slowed thinking
  • Hoarseness
  • Constipation
  • Heavy menstrual periods
  • Increased cholesterol

If you are experiencing multiple symptoms in either category, a visit to your doctor is important. Be sure to mention your anxiety or depression, too, as these can be a symptom of a thyroid disease, and thyroid disease can sometimes be a cause of anxiety and depression. Only a doctor can determine if you have a thyroid problem and, if so, whether there is a link to your mental health challenges

If you do have anxiety or depression and a thyroid condition, treatment can be promising. Medication exists to treat or compensate for a non-functioning thyroid, and treating this potential cause of anxiety and depression can likewise improve these mental health disorders. 

Sources

  1. Harvard Mental Health Letter, "Thyroid Deficiency and Mental Health." Harvard Health Publishing: Harvard Medical School, May 2007.
  2. Bathla, M., Singh, M., and Relan, P., "Prevalence of Anxiety and Depressive Symptoms Among Patients with Hypothyroidism." Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism, July-August 2016.
  3. Stoppler, M.C., "30 Thyroid Disorder Symptoms and Signs." MedicineNet, Accessed November 20, 2019. 
  4. Borchard, T., "Have Depression or Anxiety? Get Your Thyroid Checked." Everyday Health, Accessed November 20, 2019.

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2019, November 20). Could Your Thyroid Cause Anxiety and Depression?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, April 9 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2019/11/could-your-thyroid-cause-anxiety-and-depression



Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC

Tanya J. Peterson is the author of 101 Ways to Help Stop Anxiety, The 5-Minute Anxiety Relief Journal, The Mindfulness Journal for Anxiety, The Mindfulness Workbook for Anxiety, Break Free: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in 3 steps, and five critically-acclaimed, award-winning novels about mental health challenges. She also speaks nationally about mental health. Find her on her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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