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Introduction to Anxiety Caused by Hypothyroidism

Victoria LeBlanc, MS, LCPC
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.

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 managed through the same tactics that those with other anxiety disorders use to address their symptoms.

It starts by understanding your condition.

What Causes Hypothyroidism?

Many different issues can cause hypothyroidism. Some of the most common include medications which can affect the thyroid, the autoimmune disease Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, and radiation treatment for cancer.

Chronic stress can also cause hypothyroidism, as can pregnancy (during or postpartum). Some lithium antidepressants may also lead to hypothyroidism. Even iodine deficiency can lead to hypothyroidism.  

Why Does Hypothyroidism 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 which can lead to feelings of depression and anxiety. This is made worse by the physical symptoms that are associated with hypothyroidism, often causing people to worry that something is wrong with their health.

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. Hypothyroidism more commonly causes depression and fatigue rather than anxiety. However, anxiety and panic attacks have been reported, and the above reasons are likely the 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 imbalances 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:

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 if your thyroid is not to blame. Anxiety is a very natural experience and while it may be difficult to believe that your anxiety and panic is caused by your mental health, millions of others are also suffering from the same problems, all as a result of an anxiety disorder.

How to Treat Thyroid Anxiety

Whenever you have an anxiety disorder caused by something physical, treating the underlying physical problem is most 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. In fact, treating the physical ailment may alleviate you of your anxiety all together.

But, never underestimate the effectiveness of mental health treatments as well. Your brain is an amazing tool. If a physical ailment, such as thyroid problems, are causing you to have anxiety, you can address the anxiety symptoms with traditional mental health treatments. While you'll still need to treat the underlying physical issue, anxiety treatment options can still be effective - at least for managing the anxiety.

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