What Mental Problems are Associated With the Thyroid?


Thyroid deficiency is associated with cognitive and emotional instability. Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid gland) and hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid gland) are the two most common types of thyroid condition, and they can have similar symptoms to mental illness. Overlooking thyroid deficiency can be dangerous. The tests available today are relatively simple and with effective treatment the body’s response is generally positive. Many patients regain their vitality and mental health.

How Does a Healthy Thyroid Gland Work?

The thyroid gland is located at the base of the throat and produces hormones that regulate basic metabolic rate—the speed at which our bodies burn food for energy. The thyroid is regulated by the hypothalamus, located at the base of the brain, through the pituitary gland. Signals from the hypothalamus make the pituitary send thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) into the bloodstream. This hormone makes the thyroid gland release of thyroxine (T4) that is partly changed into triiodothyronine (T3). A feedback mechanism allows the hypothalamus to establish when levels of T4 and T3 are low and stimulate the pituitary to supply more TSH.

What is Hyperthyroidism

Hyperthyroidism develops when an overactive thyroid gland is producing too much thyroxine hormone. Common reasons can be an inflammation of the thyroid gland, Graves' disease, and hyper function like toxic adenoma, toxic multi-nodular goiter, or Plummer's disease. Hyperthyroidism can drastically speed up your body's metabolism, causing sudden weight loss, a rapid or irregular heartbeat, and sweating.

Hyperthyroidism Affects on Mental Health

People who suffer from an overactive thyroid might feel anxiety and tension, paranoia-like fear, impatience and irritability, distractible over-activity, exaggerated sensitivity to noise, sadness sometimes leading to depression and problems with sleep and the appetite. In severe cases, patients appear schizophrenic, losing touch with reality and becoming delirious or hallucinating.

What is Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland does not fully respond to TSH, so levels of T3 and T4 remain low while TSH builds up in the blood. The most common reason this happens is an autoimmune disease (Hashimoto’s thyroiditis) but it can also be triggered by an infection, cancer or treatment of an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) with surgery. Radiation and medications are other causes. It can be identified by an unusually high level of TSH and unusually low levels of thyroid hormones.

Hypothyroidism Affects on Mental Health

An underactive thyroid can lead to progressive loss of interest and initiative, slowed mental processes, poor short-term memory, decreased liveliness, general intellectual deterioration, depression and paranoid behavior. If someone with an underactive thyroid does not receive proper treatment, she may develop dementia and there might be permanent harmful effects on her brain.

Diagnosis Difficulties

Diagnosis of thyroid problems can be complex because many thyroid symptoms are similar to those of other diseases. Hypothyroidism, especially, frequently develops but stays hidden over a considerable time. There have been cases of patients wrongly diagnosed, hospitalized and treated unsuccessfully for psychosis. Proper treatment can reverse these symptoms and if emotional difficulties linger they are usually caused by other factors unrelated to the thyroid.

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