It’s estimated that as many as 20 million Americans have hypothyroidism, and up to 60% of this group has non-traditional symptoms of hypothyroidism.
You may have heard about the various hypothyroidism symptoms that many suffer from, or maybe you are experiencing these symptoms that may include:
- Weight gain
- Increased sensitivity to cold
- Dry skin
- Puffy face
- Muscle weakness
- Muscle aches, tenderness, and stiffness
- Pain, stiffness, or swelling in your joints
- Heavier than usual or irregular menstrual periods
- Thinning hair
- Slowed heart rate
- Enlarged thyroid gland (goiter)
While this list includes the most common symptoms of hypothyroidism, a few issues aren’t linked to thyroid disease. Instead, these symptoms have more to do with your mood, mental health, and heart.
Mental Health Issues Are Symptoms of Hypothyroidism
This focus on mental health is not new to the thyroid world; it’s been linked to thyroid disease for years!
In 1888, the Clinical Society of London and the Committee on Myxedema first linked hypothyroidism with psychosis.
Richard Asher, a British endocrinologist, reviewed the relationship between hypothyroidism and psychosis and, in 1949, added the terminology “myxedema madness” to the literature on hypothyroid-induced psychosis. It’s estimated that 5% to 15% of myxedematous patients have some form of psychosis.
Myxedema indicates low thyroid function. The term “myxedema madness” suggests that people with low thyroid function are mad.
If you suffer from hypothyroidism, you may very well agree with this statement. Hypothyroidism creates symptoms that make you feel as if you are going crazy.
* Memory Loss-you forget errands you need to run or items at the grocery store.
* General Loss of Interest-you don’t care about anything.
* Inability to Concentrate-everything you do takes longer than it used to.
* Isolation– from friends and family, wanting to spend time alone.
* Slow movement and thought-commonly referred to as Brain Fog.
* Loss of Interest in Sex-you have no desire.
* Depression-you feel sad for no reason.
Depression Is A Symptom of Hypothyroidism
Is depression a common symptom of hypothyroidism?
Thyroid hormones are so crucial to maintaining mental health that some people with thyroid conditions seek therapy for depression first because they don’t suspect something is wrong physically.
Studies show that as many as 20% of depressed people may have hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism develops when the thyroid produces too few thyroid hormones. The amount of thyroid hormone your body has can significantly affect your personality, including mimicking the symptoms of depression.
All these symptoms can make you feel like you are losing your mind.
Studies show that up to 40% of clinically hypothyroid patients have significant depression.
According to the Thyroid Society, “most hypothyroidism patients suffer from depression that ranges from mild to severe. In addition, 10%-15% of patients with a diagnosis of depression may have a thyroid hormone deficiency.”
People with depression should be tested and treated for thyroid disorders. Studies are being done and are continuing that connect depression to thyroid disease.
All forms of depression have links to hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism; however, it’s most commonly a symptom of hypothyroidism. In addition, many with hyperthyroidism have some degree of associated depression, ranging from mild to severe.
If you have depression and thyroid disease but have not been treated with thyroid hormone therapy, taking thyroid hormones may ease your symptoms.
First, your doctor needs to diagnose hypothyroidism. If you are hypothyroid and on depression medication, your doctor will need to evaluate if the depression is caused by hypothyroidism or if the anti-depressant treatment provokes slowed thyroid production.
Many doctors realize that thyroid hormone replacement can ease depression. However, thyroid hormone medication taken by someone without a thyroid condition will not lessen the depression; however, when given with anti-depressants, many confirm improvement in their well-being.
There will still be people who suffer from depression that requires further treatment. However, medication, herbal and vitamin therapy, diet, and exercise may help ease depression symptoms.
The most common thyroid drug for treating hypothyroidism is a synthetic T4 named Levothyroxine. However, since people metabolize drugs differently, doses need monitoring for each individual. Plus, certain medications, like Tegretol (a mood stabilizer) and Zoloft (an anti-depressant), have been known to reduce the effectiveness of Levothyroxine. So doctors use periodic blood tests to monitor hormone levels and adjust as needed.
Hypothyroid patients widely report that most conventional healthcare providers offered an anti-depressant when depression was a symptom.
Those same providers rarely offered to adjust the current medication dosage, try adding Liothyronine (Cytome), a T3 hormone, or change to a combination of T3 and T4 hormones to ease the depression. Studies have shown that up to 25% of those patients respond better to these medications, but most healthcare providers do not provide them with those options. Instead, most providers will tell you how those medications don’t work, aren’t stable, or are not FDA-approved, all of which are lies.
Unfortunately, many thyroid patients have been told these excuses, plus many have been shamed because Levothyroxine doesn’t control their symptoms. I had had doctors offer to prescribe anti-depressants, statins, and anti-anxiety medications when I needed them to increase my thyroid medication. When I changed to a Functional Medicine doctor, he immediately increased my dose by a third. Within 3-4 days, I felt so much better.
Most conventional healthcare providers treat the symptoms of hypothyroidism using bloodwork results only. Rarely will they adjust medication levels based on your symptoms; most will go by the numbers on your lab work but ignore the symptoms you are experiencing.
Frustrated patients struggling to control their symptoms with Levothyroxine will turn to Holistic or Functional Medicine practitioners for relief. These healthcare providers will use natural thyroid hormones for hormone replacement, focusing on the whole patient and treating the underlying issues rather than just treating symptoms.
Anxiety and Thyroid Disease
Anxiety is the body’s natural reaction to a short-term stressful situation. However, our stress is not short-term anymore, causing anxiety to rise, and when it shows up too often, it becomes a problem.
These disorders include generalized anxiety, panic attacks, social anxiety, and phobias like heights and flying. It can point to a condition if it stops you from everyday activities.
A review from JAMA Psychiatry-June 2018 found people with hypothyroidism are twice as likely as people without to develop anxiety disorders. They also found that almost a third of all anxiety disorders are linked with autoimmune thyroid disease.
Symptoms for hypothyroidism and anxiety can appear similar in the beginning.
If you’ve been diagnosed with hypothyroidism, self-monitor for these anxiety symptoms that include:
- Inability to stop worrying
- Feeling “on edge.”
- Changes in appetite
- Rapid heartbeat
- Muscle tension
- Difficulty breathing
- Changes in bowel habits
- Sweating and shakiness
“Patients that have symptoms like irritability, constant worry, and muscle tension, when treating them for anxiety, I have their thyroid levels checked for hypo- and hyperthyroidism,” says Diane Solomon, Ph.D., a nurse practitioner from Portland, Oregon.
That’s because women in their late thirties or early forties are in a period called perimenopause, the span of 5 to 10 years before menopause sets in, during which many women experience a shift in hormones, often affecting their thyroid.
Anxiety is common with hypothyroidism, and it does exist alongside depression or on its own. For example, a study of people with hypothyroidism found that 63 percent showed some anxiety.
Why Is Anxiety A Symptom of Hypothyroidism?
Specific hypothyroidism symptoms like poor concentration, decreased memory, and difficulty performing daily activities can cause anxiety.
According to the American Thyroid Association, there are many ways hypothyroidism affects women and an increasing number of men. These conditions range from having autoimmune diseases like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Graves’ disease to taking lithium medication to having too little or too much iodine available for thyroid hormone.
Some benefit from working with a therapist and their doctor, adding lifestyle changes like yoga and meditation that relieve stress and relax the mind. In addition, the development of medications, including (SSRI) selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and (SNRI)selective serotonin noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors, has proven effective against depression and anxiety for some.
With thyroid hormones, triiodothyronine (T3) controls serotonin and noradrenaline levels and actions. A decline in these two is related to depression and anxiety, just as a decrease in T3 can cause depression and anxiety. Adding T3 with anti-depressants was helpful to 25% of patients. Increasing T3 levels also improved the effects of serotonin and noradrenaline.
While studies have shown that adding T3 hormones improves thyroid patients’ mood, conventional doctors are taught the body converts T4 hormones to usable T3 hormones, so many are hesitant to add T3 hormones to the treatment plan. Still, some thyroid patients, especially those who have had their thyroids removed due to cancer /nodules or destroyed with RAI, have lost the ability to convert those hormones, leaving them at higher risk of developing depression or anxiety without the added T3 therapy.
High Cholesterol Is A Symptom of Hypothyroidism
Did you know that you should be screened for hypothyroidism if you have high “bad” LDL cholesterol levels?
Hypothyroidism causes bodily functions to slow down by producing too little thyroid hormone. This slowdown causes cholesterol levels to increase because it slows the liver’s ability to process and remove excess cholesterol. A slowed liver is also behind the T3 conversion issues we discussed earlier. Therefore, boosting a sluggish thyroid will lower your LDL cholesterol levels and reduce your heart disease risk.
Approximately half the American population is affected by high cholesterol. However, the typical culprits of diet and lack of exercise aren’t the problems for some. In addition, undertreated or undiagnosed hypothyroidism could affect up to 10 million people, plus an additional 13 million people with thyroid disease that are undiagnosed or undertreated.
Several experts believe these numbers are too low and the current diagnostic guidelines are too narrow, thus missing millions who suffer from low-level or subclinical hypothyroidism.
So, why are so many American women suffering from the symptoms of hypothyroidism?
* Chronic stress-There is a growing observation that stress causes the overproduction of cortisol, blocking the conversion and cellular use of the thyroid hormones at various levels. Healthcare providers are observing this in their clinical practice.
* Insulin resistance-This condition may play a role in the development of hypothyroidism and often coexists with it. In addition, insulin resistance has many hypothyroidism symptoms and is linked to poor nutrition, impairing thyroid function.
* Menopause and perimenopause-Some experts believe that excess estrogen combined with low progesterone is a significant trigger. Other experts think it’s more about the imbalance between estrogen and progesterone.
* Thyroid-slowing toxins-According to Dr. Mehmet Oz, M.D., triclosan’s antibacterial agent inflames thyroid cells and taxes the liver. Avoiding triclosan can help boost your energy. This toxin is found in soap, deodorant, lotions, clothing, towels, and cutting boards. The other toxin is perchlorate. This rocket-fuel residue has seeped into the groundwater in at least 43 states and is found in water-rich produce. The thyroid absorbs perchlorate instead of iodine, a crucial mineral for thyroid health. A CDC study finds that perchlorate exposure predicts low thyroid hormone levels in women but not men.
I share 17 toxins that slow thyroid function in this post: https://knowyourthyroid.com/improving-your-thyroid-gland-function-17-toxins-to-avoid/
* Soy and thyroid function-There are long-standing concerns about soy having adverse effects on thyroid function and hormone health. Soy is in a category of foods known as goitrogens-foods that promote a goiter-an enlarged thyroid. Some of these foods slow thyroid function and can trigger thyroid disease.
Many doctors believe that thyroid function blood tests should be routine because thyroid problems are so common and thyroid hormone tests are inexpensive. However, other professional organizations differ widely on screening recommendations, with most not recommending widespread screening for apparently healthy adults.
If your doctor questions your cholesterol levels, address any other health issues contributing to your cholesterol issues.
The top two extremely critical health concerns are Diabetes and thyroid disorders because they affect how cholesterol and triglycerides metabolize. Since cholesterol testing is recommended, many do not understand why more doctors do not test for thyroid disorders upon finding high cholesterol.
For some doctors, this could be due to a misunderstanding of thyroid issues or the tendency to write off symptoms of fatigue, weight gain, and depression, especially in women. Either way, we need more testing and treatment options.