This Common Disease Could Be the Reason You're So Anxious, and Treating It Can Help

Anxiety can be debilitating. After all, it's difficult to manage your day-to-day when you spend so much of your time (and energy) getting sucked into negative thoughts, spinning in a constant hamster wheel of worry. While many factors contribute to anxiety, your fretful state could be traced back to a thyroid disorder, particularly hyperthyroidism.

The Thyroid-Brain Connection

Hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid produces too much of the hormone thyroxine. Thyroxine works with other thyroid hormones to control a number of functions, including metabolism and digestion. When your thyroid is overactive, and releases too much thyroxine into the body, you might experience weight loss — even as your appetite increases — or feel hot and sweaty, among other physical symptoms.

But hyperthyroidism can also alter your brain and mood. "There are receptors for the thyroid hormone in the brain as well as the body," Monica Starkman, MD, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan Medical School, told POPSUGAR. "The effects on the brain due to excess thyroid hormones can be unusual and persistent nervousness, restlessness, irritability, and anxiety."

Hyperthyroidism is most often caused by an autoimmune disease called Grave's disease, but thyroiditis — a condition in which the thyroid becomes inflamed for no apparent reason — is common in women who have recently given birth. These women will often have tons of energy after delivering the baby, and may even be quick to lose weight because they're in a transient hyperthyroid state, explained Carly Snyder, MD, who specializes in reproductive psychiatry. But eventually, the thyroid burns out, leading to an underactive condition known as hypothyroidism. "Mood plummets, and the mother may be irritable and sad," Dr. Snyder said. "She may gain some weight back, and feel tired or foggy." Naturally, this means that women with postpartum thyroiditis are at an increased risk for postpartum depression.

While it's less common, hypothyroidism can also cause anxiety, especially among women. A study published in the Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism found that, out of 100 patients who suffered from hypothyroidism, 70 percent of men reported experiencing depression, while more than 92 percent of women reported feeling anxious.

When to See the Doctor

If you suffer from anxiety or depression or both, it's important to pay attention to how your body is feeling separate from your mood. "If someone has the physical symptoms [of a thyroid disorder], as well as anxiety, that's a real clue the thyroid may be involved," Dr. Starkman said. "Even if not, some physicians and psychiatrists will want to do a blood test first with patients who have anxiety to see if the thyroid plays a part." If it does, it's important to treat the underlying problem.