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Introduction to Anxiety Caused by Hypothyroidism

Anxiety is known as a mental health disease. It's generally forged over years of experiences, along with a combination of genetics and development. Yet in rare cases, anxiety can be caused by conditions that change the way your body operates - diseases or illnesses that create anxiety, even in those with no history of anxiety issues.

That is a problem that can occur if you suffer from hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism is characterized by insufficient amounts of thyroid hormone. "Hypo-" means "deficient in" or "lacking in," and it occurs when something is preventing your thyroid from creating the amount of thyroid hormone your body needs to thrive.

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Hypothyroid and Anxiety

Only a doctor can diagnose hypothyroidism. The good news, however, is that even if your anxiety is caused by a low production of thyroid hormone, mental health treatments still work. Anxiety can be controlled through the same tactics that those with other anxiety disorders use to control their symptoms.

It starts by understanding your condition. I have a free anxiety questionnaire I developed to help you get an idea of the way your anxiety symptoms are affecting you. If you haven't completed it yet, take the 7 minute anxiety severity test here.

What Causes Hypothyroidism?

Many different issues can cause hypothyroidism. The most well-known occurs when your body lacks iodine. Iodine is crucial for the creation of thyroid hormone, and estimates put the number of people lacking in iodine as high as 5 to 10%.

Stress can also cause hypothyroid, as can pregnancy. Some lithium anti-depressants may also lead to hypothyroid. In cases of stress, physical, hormonal, and emotional stress all appear to contribute to thyroid dysfunction.

Why Does Hypothyroid Cause Anxiety?

The thyroid hormone is directly linked to the regulation of very important neurotransmitters. From GABA to serotonin to norepinephrine, thyroid hormone plays a crucial role in their creation and regulation.

When your thyroid hormone is not functioning properly, these neurotransmitters tend to go haywire, causing not only anxiety, but also frequent panic attacks. This is made worse by the physical symptoms that are often associated with hypothyroidism, often causing people to worry that something is wrong with their health.

Hypothyroidism is far more common in women than men, and the risk increases as you age. Also, some people with hypothyroidism experience an increase in panic attacks and anxiety unrelated to the hormone, as a result of fear over the physical effects of the thyroid. Recall that stress itself may contribute to hypothyroidism, so in some cases thyroid issues may be the response to anxiety, not the cause.

Hypothyroidism, however, is actually not the type of thyroid disorder most associated with anxiety and panic attacks. That's hyperthyroidism, which is when too much of the thyroid hormone is produced. Hypothyroid more commonly causes depression and fatigue, rather than anxiety. But anxiety and panic attacks have been reported, and the above reasons are the most likely causes.

How Can You Know if Your Anxiety is Caused By Your Thyroid?

Only a doctor can diagnose hypothyroidism. Iodine tests, T4 (free thyroxine) tests, and tests for thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) are the primary methods of diagnosis. You should never diagnose yourself. Many people have attributed their anxiety to thyroid hormone only to find out that their thyroid is functioning properly. It's easier for many to believe that their severe anxiety symptoms are caused by a physical problem, not their mental health. Yet even if thyroid problems run in your family it's still more likely that your anxiety is not caused by your thyroid, but by other factors in your life.

Thyroid disorders should also have other symptoms, since the thyroid plays a role in several other functions. A small sample of these symptoms includes:

  • Cold intolerance
  • Brittle fingernails
  • Weight gain
  • Muscle cramping
  • Elevated cholesterol
  • Low heart rate
  • Fatigue

Additional symptoms may occur if the thyroid has been malfunctioning for a long period of time.

Ask any anxiety expert and they'll tell you that even if it's obvious you have anxiety, it's never a bad idea to go to the doctor and get these issues checked out. While thyroid hormone dysfunction is not nearly as likely as simply suffering from anxiety, it's still something that can occur, so testing it is advantageous.

But don't be surprised to find that your thyroid is not to blame. Anxiety is a very natural experience, and while some of the symptoms of anxiety and panic may come so suddenly that it becomes hard to believe that they're caused by your mental health, millions of others are also suffering from the same problems, all as a result of their anxiety disorder.

How to Treat Thyroid Anxiety

Whenever you have an anxiety disorder caused by something physical, treating the underlying physical problem is important - especially because some people can easily treat their thyroid problem through supplementation or very basic medicines. If you treat the underlying problem, you'll be able to manage your anxiety better.

But never underestimate the effectiveness of mental health treatments as well. Your brain is an amazing tool. If you suffer from anxiety with a physical cause, you can still treat it with traditional mental health treatments. You'll still need to treat the underlying physical issue, but anxiety treatment options should still be effective - at least for managing the anxiety.

That's why even when you suffer from hypothyroid anxiety, I still recommend you take my free anxiety test. I've used it to help thousands of people overcome their anxiety symptoms, through a combination of symptom comparison charts and treatment recommendations.

If you haven't done so yet, start the test now.

Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.

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