Over the years, research has strengthened the claim that mental health problems are not only associated with issues involving the brain itself. Other organs also affect these brain functions. And this was seemingly proven by the role of the thyroid gland.
Thyroid hormones such as T3 (triiodothyronine) and T4 (thyroxine) affect brain metabolism. Therefore, if there’s any problem with the thyroid gland, it could heavily impact cognition and behavioral patterns.
Unfortunately, when it comes to mental health, few people are aware of its link with thyroid problems.
According to the American Thyroid Association, about 20 million Americans have thyroid disorders, of which 60% are even unaware of their condition. So, they often mistake anxiety, depression, and other psychological problems as results of external factors.
Nevertheless, there is more to thyroid problems than mere disruption to physiological state. Find out how your thyroid gland health links directly to mental health problems as you read on.
How Does Thyroid Health Affect Your Brain Function?
The thyroid gland contributes to almost all other functions of the body. So, it comes as no surprise that it influences our psychological state.
When it comes to the brain, the thyroid gland supplies hormones crucial for its metabolism. It also helps in nerve function, particularly in sending impulses from the brain to other body parts.
So, if thyroid problems occur, these activities are also affected.
Two of the most common conditions affecting thyroid gland function are hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism. Both disorders involve the inability of the production to produce and release the right amount of hormones.
For example, in hypothyroidism, there is a shortage in the production of thyroid hormones due to an underactive thyroid gland. On the other hand, hyperthyroidism is the opposite, wherein excessive hormones are created.
People with hypothyroidism experience mental fogginess characterized by memory lapses, fatigue, and inability to focus. It makes sense as the brain can perform less if energy is not sufficiently provided for the neurons or brain cells.
Effects of Thyroid Problems on Your Mental Health
Considering the crucial role of thyroid hormones in maintaining cognitive health, it is pretty expected that thyroid problems can interfere with mental health.
Here are some of the common psychological problems experienced by those diagnosed with thyroid conditions.
- Lack of Concentration
If you’re having a hard time focusing on your work or fixing your attention to a task, it could be due to thyroid problems.
With hypothyroidism, the brain often underperforms with its task due to some sort of fog or cloudiness. As a result, it leads to forgetfulness and general trouble concentrating.
A study published in the Thyroid Journal showed that patients with hypothyroidism have a decreased volume of the brain’s hippocampus, which is responsible for processing short-term and long-term memory.
It suggests that collecting new information is interrupted or delayed due to this change.
- Mood Swings
The interruption in the metabolic activity of the brain causes an imbalance in the central nervous system leading to behavioral shifts.
With that, mood swings become frequent. If you have hypothyroidism or other thyroid problems, you can just observe how easily irritable you become. Your mood sometimes changes, even without an apparent reason.
This common symptom is one of the reasons why experts look closer into the role of thyroid problems in the development of bipolar disorder. This psychological condition is characterized by extreme mood swings with exaggerated highs and lows in emotions.
- Low Motivation
Lack of interest or motivation is also common among those with thyroid disorders. It’s still a manifestation of the low metabolic rate in the brain.
As the neurons struggle to regain their function, several neurotransmitters or chemicals released by the brain are produced less This results in apathy or lack of energy to complete a task.
- Severe Anxiety
Anxiety disorders are often linked with both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism. Several studies have supported this notion, especially as the correlation between these conditions.
People with severe anxiety due to thyroid disorders often experience unusual levels of fear and nervousness. While doctors often prescribe medications against these immediate symptoms, long-term treatment begins with assessing thyroid conditions.
- Shorter Temper
People with hyperthyroidism tend to be more aggressive and have a shorter temper. They are easily irritated with small things and, in some cases, tend to be violent. However, this depends on the severity of the disorder and other factors involved.
Nonetheless, studies have shown that this aggression is primarily associated with the excessive release of free T3 and T4 in the bloodstream.
This is why thyroid health is evaluated among people with a borderline personality disorder.
Depression can sometimes get triggered not by external factors or events but by thyroid disorders. Hence, the condition is not necessarily out of the blue.
However, the depressive tendencies that people with thyroid disorders have can be linked not just to the hormonal imbalance but to abnormalities concerning the hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid (HPT) axis. This axis is responsible for managing stress and regulating metabolism.
Therefore, if there are problems in the HPT axis, the stress response becomes chaotic, leading to emotional lows you can’t control.
Moreover, the inevitable weight gain caused by slow metabolism contributes to a negative body perception that aggravates the overwhelming sadness that manifests depression.
- Panic Attacks
Patients with hyperthyroidism often experience panic attacks caused by the overactive thyroid gland.
Unfortunately, in many cases, these panic attacks are automatically diagnosed as panic disorder or general anxiety disorder (GAD) when, in fact, it’s a thyroid problem.
For example, in a case study published in the BioPsychoSocial Medicine Journal, one patient was misdiagnosed with panic disorder. As a result, the prescribed treatment was for the said condition.
When the panic attacks did not go away, they looked into the possibility of Grave’s disease – a condition that causes hyperthyroidism. However, after they tested for the patient’s thyroid profile, it was only then that a proper diagnosis was conducted. The condition was, in fact, a thyroid storm.
With that, studies have recommended thyroid health profiling for those suspected of having panic disorders.
- Fatigue and Restlessness
Slow metabolism caused by defective thyroid gland function leads to delays in energy production. This energy shortage experienced by your body is why you feel tired all the time.
Fatigue among people with hypothyroidism is persistent. For example, they may have gotten enough sleep overnight, yet they still feel restless when they wake up.
This feeling of exhaustion also contributes to other psychological conditions such as depression and general anxiety.
Early Warning Signs of Thyroid Problems
Now that it’s clear how thyroid disorders affect your mental health, it becomes even more crucial to spot signs and symptoms suggesting problems with your thyroid gland.
Here are some early warning signs you can watch for to detect thyroid abnormalities.
- Weight fluctuation
- Heat or Cold sensitivity
- Irregular heart rate
- Chills and tremors
- Digestive problems
- Muscle weakness
- Dry skin
- Depression and anxiety
What Can a Blood Test Tell You About Your Thyroid?
A blood test tells you about the normal function of your thyroid gland, especially in terms of producing thyroid hormones. The results will show whether your thyroid gland is underactive or overactive.
The standard thyroid blood tests include the assessment of critical hormones. With that, the test results can easily indicate hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism.
For example, here at Personalabs, you can avail of Thyroid testing as a package which means you don’t need to order one single test after the other. Instead, all the tests related to thyroid functions are found in a single profiling blood test.
Here are your choices when it comes to thyroid profile testing:
Basic Thyroid Health Profile Blood Test – This test evaluates the production of thyroid hormones free T3 and T4 along with the thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) produced by the brain’s pituitary gland.
Optimal Thyroid Health Profile Blood Test – Aside from the free thyroid hormones and TSH, this set of blood tests also includes total T3 and T4, as well as thyroid peroxidase (TPO) antibodies and reverse T3.
The Bottom Line
It’s a bit concerning that many people remain unaware of the relationship between thyroid problems and mental health issues.
For most individuals, mental health problems like depression, personality disorder, panic disorder, and general anxiety are often caused by stress, grief, frustrations, and other external factors.
Without exploring or observing other symptoms, the chances of misdiagnosis only increase.
So, it’s a good thing the blood tests for thyroid profiling are readily available so your doctor can assess your thyroid health.
If you are experiencing the above mentioned psychological conditions, it might be time to have your thyroid health checked. That way, you can be assured that no rocks are unturned in terms of making the proper diagnosis.