Depression Symptoms: Could They Be Caused by Your Thyroid?

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January has been designated as Thyroid Awareness Month by the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists. One of the reasons we want to talk about thyroid dysfunction here on the depression site is that in some cases depression symptoms are really caused by thyroid problems. We are going to talk about some of the physical and mental manifestations of thyroid dysfunction so that you can discuss any of these symptoms with your doctor. In some cases diagnosing and treating thyroid disease can alleviate the symptoms of depression.

Some Quick Facts about Your Thyroid and Thyroid Dysfunction

  • The thyroid gland is found in the front of the neck just below your voice box. The thyroid is a power packed endocrine gland responsible for helping you to maintain a healthy metabolism. In laymen's terms the thyroid controls how your body transforms food into energy, how your body makes proteins, and also controls how sensitive your body is to other hormones. Your thyroid accomplishes all this by producing two critical thyroid hormones called thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3).

  • Thyroid hormones are responsible for things like the body's growth, metabolism, digestion, body temperature, heartbeat, and cognitive functioning.

  • Thyroid disease is the most common glandular disorder following diabetes.

  • Some experts estimate that approximately one in five people will suffer from some form of thyroid disease by the time they reach the age of sixty. Other statistics show that at least 20 million Americans are currently being treated for thyroid dysfunction.

  • Women are four times as likely as men to develop thyroid problems in their lifetime.

  • Researchers of a 2004 study published in BMC Psychiatry concluded that: "there is evidence suggesting the presence of an autoimmune process affecting the thyroid gland in depressive patients."

  • The literature on thyroid dysfunction and depression suggests that as much as 20 percent of all chronic-depression cases may be correlated with a low production of thyroid hormones.

  • According to a 2011 report published   in the New York Times are finding abnormal blood levels of thyroid hormones in patients with depression and anxiety. Improvements in mood, memory, and cognition can be seen when these patients are treated for their thyroid dysfunction.

There are generally two major types of thyroid disease including hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism. The following are symptoms of each type of thyroid disorder: Hypothyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid gland does not make enough thyroid hormone. Some of the symptoms of this condition may include:

  • low energy, constant tiredness

  • depression

  • dizziness

  • weight gain, despite diminished appetite

  • intolerance to cold

  • inability to concentrate, memory lapses

  • constipation

  • slowed heart rate

  • raised blood cholesterol

  • muscle weakness, cramps

  • goiter (enlarged thyroid)

  • anemia

  • menstrual irregularities

  • ankle swelling

  • hair loss (especially eyebrows)

  • dry scaly skin and brittle nails

  • hoarse voice

  • puffy face, hands, and feet

  • swelling around the eyes

  • droopy eyelids

  • swollen abdomen

  • decreased sex drive

  • infertility

  • impaired coordination

Hyperthyroidism means that you have an overactive thyroid and you are producing too much thyroid hormone. Some of the symptoms of hyperthyroidism include:

  • goiter (enlarged thyroid gland)

  • nervousness

  • mental impairment, memory lapses, diminished attention span

  • irritability

  • trembling hands

  • fatigue

  • insomnia

  • diarrhea

  • itchy skin

  • unexplained weight loss despite increased appetite

  • heart palpitations

  • heat intolerance

  • increased sweating

  • muscle weakness

  • hair loss

  • increase in bowel movements

  • decrease in menstrual periods

  • eye irritation

  • protruding eyeballs (Grave's disease only)

So as you can see thyroid disease has a lot of overlap with psychiatric symptoms such as anxiety, irritability, insomnia, problems with concentration, and depression. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms listed above, it may be time to get a good physical check-up from your primary care physician. A simple blood test can help determine if you have thyroid disease.

We would also like to hear from you. How many of you suffer from both depression and thyroid dysfunction? Does treating your thyroid disease help alleviate your depression symptoms? Tell us your story. It just may help someone else in a similar situation.