Although many of us suffer from anxiety and depression, whether intermittently or chronically, pinpointing the root cause can be difficult. One part of our bodies that could impact the development of these conditions is the thyroid. Unfortunately, thyroid-related issues are relatively common and impact up to 12% of people.
The thyroid is a small gland that is in the neck. It produces hormones that regulate metabolism, energy levels, and mood. Although it serves a powerful purpose, it can have a negative impact on the body and brain as well. In this blog, we explore the relationship between the thyroid and mental health, focusing specifically on how thyroid dysfunction can contribute to depression and anxiety.
Understanding the Thyroid Gland
Before delving into the connection between the thyroid and mental health, it is important to understand the role of the thyroid gland in the body. The thyroid produces two main hormones: triiodothyronine and thyroxine. These hormones help control various bodily functions, including growth and the functioning of organs like the heart, brain, and muscles. They are also responsible for controlling the body’s metabolism. They influence the rate at which the body burns calories, how fast the heart beats, and even how quickly the body processes nutrients.
What Thyroid Issues Exist?
There are quite a few different issues that can impact and disturb thyroid functioning in humans. Autoimmune disorders like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Graves’ disease contribute to thyroid dysfunction. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis triggers inflammation and the gradual destruction of thyroid tissue, often leading to hypothyroidism. In contrast, Graves’ disease prompts the immune system to produce antibodies that stimulate the thyroid, causing it to produce excessive amounts of hormone and resulting in hyperthyroidism.
Thyroid nodules are also common and can be either benign or cancerous. While most nodules are harmless, some may produce excess thyroid hormone, leading to hyperthyroidism, or display signs of malignancy, necessitating further investigation.
Iodine deficiency is another lesser-known issue that can disrupt thyroid function, as iodine is necessary to produce thyroid hormones. Other less common thyroid disorders include thyroid cancer, thyroiditis, and congenital hypothyroidism, which is present from birth.
The two most recognized issues that involve the thyroid are hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism, which we will dive into next.
Thyroid Dysfunction and Depression
Studies have revealed a bidirectional relationship between thyroid dysfunction and depression. Hypothyroidism, which is a condition characterized by an underactive thyroid, is associated with symptoms like fatigue, weight gain, low mood, and cognitive impairment.
These symptoms closely resemble those of depression, often leading to misdiagnosis or the development of depressive symptoms in individuals with hypothyroidism. This adds fuel to the fire as many people suffering from thyroid dysfunction may see changes in their bodies that they do not like, such as weight gain. For some, this is enough to develop depressive symptoms and unfortunately, it is not something that they can control.
Hypothyroidism affects the production and availability of neurotransmitters like serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine, which oversee regulating mood. The decreased levels of these neurotransmitters contribute to the development of depressive-like symptoms.
On the other hand, research has also shown that depression itself can disrupt thyroid function. Stress and high cortisol levels, often seen in people with depression, can affect the hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid axis. This can lead to decreased production and release of thyroid hormones. This disruption adds insult to injury, so to speak.
Thyroid Dysfunction and Anxiety
Like depression, thyroid dysfunction is linked to a host of anxiety disorders. Hyperthyroidism, an overactive thyroid condition, is associated with symptoms like irritability, restlessness, and panic attacks, all of which closely resemble anxiety symptoms. The excess production of thyroid hormones speeds up the body’s metabolism, triggering a “fight-or-flight” response and potentially leading to heightened anxiety. Roughly 60% of people with hyperthyroidism suffer from anxiety, whereas only 30% of people with hypothyroidism do.
Studies have shown that the relationship between anxiety and thyroid dysfunction may be mediated by the dysregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. The HPA axis plays a part in the body’s stress response system, and disruption in this axis can contribute to the development of anxiety disorders.
Another way that thyroid issues can create anxiety within a person stems from the fact that they are suffering from a health condition. Having to frequent the doctor’s office, take daily medication, and deal with a chronic illness can be mentally taxing. It may cause a specific type of anxiety, known as health anxiety, that can take a toll over time. Suffering from this frequent anxiety can cause depressive-like symptoms as well.
What Does Thyroid-Related Anxiety Feel Like?
Similar to general anxiety, thyroid-related anxiety can manifest in a range of symptoms, including feelings of nervousness, irritability, weakness, and fatigue. Anyone experiencing thyroid anxiety might struggle with sleep disturbances, diminished concentration, and an accelerated heart rate. They might also experience a prevailing sense of imminent peril or an impending sense of doom. Also, digestive issues and disrupted sleep patterns may accompany thyroid-related anxiety.
Can Thyroid Issues Cause Other Mental Health Conditions?
Suffering from a thyroid condition does cause people to suffer from a higher risk of developing mental health conditions of all kinds. Psychosis, panic disorder, and even dementia are tied to thyroid conditions. Because of this, getting treatment quickly is of the utmost importance.
Treatment and Management Options
Recognizing the connection between thyroid dysfunction and mental health is crucial for effective treatment and management. In cases where thyroid dysfunction is the primary cause of depression or anxiety, addressing the underlying thyroid condition can significantly alleviate symptoms. This may involve hormone replacement therapy, antithyroid medications, or radioactive iodine therapy, depending on the specific thyroid disorder.
However, not all cases of depression and anxiety are solely attributed to thyroid dysfunction. These conditions are dynamic, and a comprehensive approach that includes psychological therapies, lifestyle modifications, and, if necessary, pharmacological interventions may be required. In many cases, doctors might prescribe an antidepressant or a beta blocker in conjunction with thyroid medication.
Thanks in part to a growing body of research, those suffering from thyroid issues can have some peace of mind knowing that there are effective strategies that can help alleviate their symptoms. Suffering from anxiety or depression because of a thyroid condition is not something you have to deal with forever.
If you suspect that thyroid dysfunction may be contributing to your depression or anxiety symptoms, it is best to consult with a professional. They can evaluate your symptoms, conduct appropriate tests, and develop a treatment plan that addresses both your mental health and thyroid function. Proper diagnosis and management of thyroid disorders can bring relief and improve your quality of life.
New Dimensions Can Help!
If you are struggling with anxiety or depression, New Dimensions can help. We provide Intensive Outpatient Treatment Programs (IOP) and Partial Hospitalization (PHP) for adolescents and adults who are dealing with mental health or substance abuse issues. We have locations in Katy, The Woodlands, and Houston, Texas and offer online virtual treatment program options.