Your thyroid gland creates thyroid hormone at a set rate. But in some cases that rate can speed up or slow down and create an unbalanced amount of the crucial hormone. If the thyroid produces more hormone than your body needs, it's known as "hyperthyroid." If it produces less, it's known as "hypothyroid."
These conditions have been linked to changes in mental health, and while it's not that common, some people find that their thyroid problems create panic attacks.
The Likely Cause of Panic
Thyroid problems can lead to panic attacks. But panic attacks are extremely common even without thyroid issues, and they can often be controlled with standard anxiety reduction techniques. Learn more about some of the ways to prevent this type of anxiety with my free anxiety test.
Thyroid Problems Are Uncommon
It's very important to remember that thyroid problems are extremely uncommon. Hyperthyroid affects 2% of women and 0.2% of men, while hypothyroid is at 1% or less for both genders (although this number increases dramatically after the age of 50). While it's nice to blame panic attacks on something like the thyroid, never self diagnose. The reality is that if you don't know what's causing your panic attacks, it's probably just anxiety. Take my anxiety test to learn more.
There are many tests for thyroid problems and they're fairly simple. Doctors can tell if you have problems with your thyroid with a simple blood test, so go to the doctor and complete one to find out if you may suffer from the condition.
Hypothyroid and Panic Attacks
Hypothyroid is not generally associated with panic attacks. Hypothyroid is associated with the development of depression. There is evidence that the thyroid hormone affects the values of certain neurotransmitter levels, like GABA, and also changes body metabolism in a way that may decrease energy to the brain when a person has hypothyroid.
But interestingly, there are still many people that report panic attacks with hypothyroidism. Possible reasons for this include:
- Similar Causes - There is some evidence that stress can lead to the development of hypothyroid. Those that are prone to panic attacks - even if they have never had one before - may then be experiencing panic attacks caused by extreme stress, not thyroid hormone, and the two simply developed together.
- Health Anxiety - Hypothyroid causes many changes to your body, your emotions, your physical sensations and more. This can create a type of sensitivity to the way your body feels and "overthinking" of your own health. Health anxiety is often a contributing factor to the development of panic attacks.
- Rapid Thoughts - Hypothyroid doesn't generally cause the rapid heartbeat and fast breathing most associated with panic attacks, but it can cause rapid thoughts and unusual fatigued thinking. This combination can cause people to experience considerable anxiety over their health, which in turn may create panic.
It's also important to note that the human brain is incredibly complex, and sometimes anything that throws off the balance of neurotransmitters in your brain can cause anxiety and panic attacks. Every person is different, so it is possible that hypothyroid creates anxiety and panic in a way that is currently unclear.
Hyperthyroid and Panic Attacks
Hyperthyroid, on the other hand, is directly linked to panic attacks. In fact, panic attacks are often considered a symptom of this type of thyroid disease, and in rare cases it's considered a warning sign of possibly an undiagnosed thyroid problem.
Now, before you decide to diagnose yourself with a thyroid issue, you should know that panic attacks from hyperthyroid are identical to panic attacks simply from anxiety, and both appear to come for no reason. Don't self-diagnose yourself with a thyroid issue simply because it's hard to believe that you have panic attacks. That's what panic attacks are, and nearly everyone believes they have a thyroid problem first only to find out that they simply have panic attacks. Remember, testing for hyperthyroid is easy and can take place in any doctor's office.
But hyperthyroid also does genuinely appear to cause an increase in anxiety, possibly with panic attacks. Why this occurs is very complex. In some cases, it may simply be a physical reaction to the symptoms of hyperthyroid, where you react to them with extreme anxiety. Symptoms include:
- Feeling nervous and shaking.
- Unable to sleep.
- Heart palpitations/racing heartbeat.
- Profuse sweating.
These are many of the exact same symptoms of a panic attack. It's possible that your body is creating panic attack symptoms, and this triggers you to experience the extreme anxiety that ultimately leads to a real panic attack.
Hyperthyroid also causes changes to your brain chemistry which can lead to anxiety and panic attacks. Anything that alters the neurotransmitter balance in your brain has the potential to lead to these types of symptoms. Hyperthyroidism also leads to extremely high metabolism, and it's possible that the way a high metabolism affects your overall body chemistry also contributes to anxiety as a result of considerable excess energy.
While thyroid problems are uncommon and panic attacks from thyroid do not always occur, if one does have a panic attack problem as a result of thyroid health, it's likely that you would have hyperthyroid rather than hypothyroid.
How to Combat Anxiety From Thyroid Dysfunction
There are two things to note about treating panic attacks from thyroid issues. The first is that there are many medical treatments for thyroid problems. That's why seeing your doctor is crucial. Scientists have found many healthy ways to improve thyroid health and regulate thyroid hormone, and these medications should reduce your panic attacks considerably if you take them.
But it's also important to note that even when anxiety is caused by a medical issue, like your thyroid, there are often still ways to prevent it from spiraling out of control even without medicine. In addition, with panic attacks especially, once you start experiencing them it's possible that you may keep experiencing them after your thyroid improves.
I've helped many people with thyroid problems overcome their anxiety, starting with my free 7 minute anxiety test. Take the test now to get a much better idea of what you can do to cope with anxiety and stress.
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Matsubayashi, S., et al. Graves' disease after the onset of panic disorder. Psychotherapy and psychosomatics 65.5 (2010): 277-280.
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Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.